Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have several personnel announcements and a couple other minor items, or other items that I want to discuss.
The President intends to nominate Tony Armendariz to be a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The President intends to nominate Sarah V. Hart, to be Director of the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice. The President intends to nominate Shirin Raziuddin Tahir-Kheli to be Representative of the United States on the Human Rights Commission of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. And the President intends to nominate Gordon H. Mansfield to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Congressional Affairs.
A little news about welcoming leaders to Washington. The President will welcome Amir Hamad bin Iffa Al Khalifa of Bahrain to Washington for a working visit on May 7th. And the President today announced that he will name Scott Evertz to be Director of the Office of National Aids Policy. He is currently the Vice President of the Lutheran Manor Foundation, Incorporated, and Director of the Resource Development for the United Lutheran Program for the Aging in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
And as the Director of this office, Mr. Evertz will be the White House point person and the point of contact for organizations focused on community based, national, international aspects of HIV/AIDS. The office will coordinate with the administration's activities related to domestic and international AIDS academic and will be staffed with two detailees, one from the Department of State and one from the Department of Health and Human Services.
And because HIV and AIDS is such a growing global crisis, and because of the particular emphasis that President Bush wants to put on fighting AIDS and finding ways to reduce AIDS, if not cure AIDS around the world, the AIDS Policy Office will have increased focus on international components of the disease. The office will have, I mentioned the two detailees from State and HHS, and the office will also work with a new high-level task force that will be co-chaired by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, that will work with the White House Domestic Policy Advisor and the National Security Advisor.
The final announcement I have is the President at 7:30 p.m. last night spoke with Tiger Woods, to congratulate him on winning the Masters Tournament. With that, I'll be happy to take questions.
Q:Is Tiger coming to the White House any time soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll let you know. I don't have anything on that yet. He just won.
Q:On the AIDS office, real quick, what does the President have to say to his detractors about this? This gentleman is gay, and at the Republican convention, when the gay gentleman spoke before the convention, many in his home state, as well as many in the Republican Party could not even look at the gentleman. What does the President say to this, especially in an era of bringing people together?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President picks the best people for the job -- for their jobs, regardless of what their background may or may not be. And that's why he has chosen Scott. The President respects him, knows he's a leader in the community that is fighting AIDS, and he'll be welcome at this White House.
Q:Ari, it's not just about what he is, but what he believes. It said in the Post this morning that he believes that perhaps one of the solutions to AIDS would be to reduce the stigma of homosexuality in the African-American community. Is that a position the administration shares, that we need to reduce the stigma of homosexuality?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's important is to allow the office to develop and to come up with as many ideas as they can, to fight what has been just a growing international problem that is wreaking terrible, terrible problems in many communities across our country and around the world.
And so the President is forming this group for the whole purpose of bringing together some of the best minds to share their ideas. It's too soon to say exactly what the tactics will be. But this administration is committed, under President Bush, to fighting AIDS and to having a high level focus here at the White House to getting that job done.
I do want to emphasize the international component is generally new. And that's a reflection of the fact that the President is concerned about this. He has brought up the problem of AIDS in Africa with foreign leaders who come here, with congressional leaders who come here, it's on the President's mind, and it's something that he wants to combat.
Q:Are you saying he's doing more than Clinton on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not making more -- oh, on the international component? Well, the office will have an international component built into its structure. But I think the Clinton people made every good faith effort they could possibly make, as well. And we're going to continue that in this administration.
Q:What is the administration doing to make the language, which both sides are trying to use to solve the China dispute, understandable, one to another? That seems to be one of the big hang-ups.
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration's actions are diplomatic, and by that I mean any discussions and negotiations about resolving this matter are being led by our ambassador in Beijing, under the direction of Secretary Powell and the President. And he's been involved in many intense conversations with his counterparts in Beijing to resolve this matter. They're working on language; they're working on wording; and that's where the matter stands.
Q:Is the President still going to China, and how can he justify it if the plane's crew is detained?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, as you know, the President has announced his trip to China, and we have indicated previously, the administration has said they will take matters one step at a time. But many members of Congress were supposed to go to China this week, and they cancelled their trip. And that's further evidence that the longer this goes on, the more damage risks getting done to U.S.-China relations.
Q:Well, do you see the President following suit in that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. The President has announced that he is going. The longer this problem drags on, the more damage will be done.
Q:Ari, you had earlier said that you had no objection to the members of Congress taking this trip. Did they contact you before they cancelled? And did you give them any guidance at that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: They did, many of them did contact us, and they were looking for guidance. They were seeking the administration's opinions. The administration did not tell them to cancel, we didn't tell them what to do. But the administration clearly understands what they're thinking and why they did what they did. This is a sensitive moment, but those are decisions made by congressional leaders and they can give their own reasons for why they took those steps.
Q:This morning, Congressman Spratt, who is the ranking Budget Committee member, said that he was standing in line -- or I saw him standing in line -- and he said that he could not get a hold of the budget until 10:00 a.m, the White House did not say that they would give him a copy of the budget, and so he had to stand in line with the press to get a budget. Was there a mess-up there? Is that policy? He said this broke protocol in 20 years.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard of it, so I'll have to look into it. Standing in line with the press isn't so bad. (Laughter.) I'll have to look into that. Members of Congress, of course, need to get their budgets in a timely way. But that's the first I've heard.
Q:The President said that, we are going to get rid of the death tax to keep farms in the family. Yesterday, the New York Times, on the front page, ran an article quoting tax experts saying they have never found a farm lost because of estate taxes. And they quote, even the American Farm Bureau Federation, which supports repeal, saying they could not cite a single instance of a farm lost because of estate taxes. So what did the President mean when he said, we are going to get rid of the death tax to keep farms in the family?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the reasons for that is that farmers have to go through a tortuous process just to keep the farm in the family hands. And there is no reason that farmers, or anybody else, should have to go through these tax avoidance schemes, should have to get financial planners. You shouldn't have to get an estate planner just because you work the land.
The only reason they have to get estate planners and carry out all these tax avoidance procedures is for the purpose of keeping their farms. If it wasn't for all those procedures they have to put in place, which cost them a tremendous amount of money, they certainly would lose the family farm. And that's why they do it; they're worried about losing the family farm. If you abolish the death tax, people won't have to hire all these planners to help them keep the land that's rightfully theirs.
Q:Ari, back on China for a moment. The President said this morning, the longer this goes on it could harm the relationship. Secretary Powell said something very similar yesterday, as well.
Can you be more specific about what you mean by, harming the relationship? You've already addressed visits; some on the Hill have talked about slowing down WTO entry, China is still not a member; some have talked about the Olympics; some have talked about the Taiwan decision.
Are all of those within the atmosphere of what you're discussing in harming the relationship? Are there other things?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, so long as the talks are ongoing and it remains as sensitive as it does, I'm going to refrain from getting into any of the specific steps. The administration is taking it one step at a time, as I indicated earlier, and I do not think it would be productive to go down any of the items that could get damaged.
But you heard the President say it this morning, Secretary Powell said it yesterday, Condoleezza Rice said it yesterday, there is no question that the longer this goes on the more damage can be done. I'm not going to today put my finger on what those specific items could be.
But, again, I want to go back to something that took place in the Oval Office just about two weeks ago or so, and that was the President's visit with Deputy Premier Qian Qichen, where they did talk about so many of the positive aspects of the United States-Chinese relations. And it was one after another, all the positive, productive things that are underway between the United States and China.
And from the President's point of view, if this continues, so much of the good they talked about can go wrong, or will go wrong, and he wants to avoid that.
Q:On that point, you obviously have a number of members of Congress coming out and saying that they're rethinking their support for PNTR, they're beginning to think that maybe this should in some way be linked to arms sales to Taiwan. Aside from what the administration might hold out as the list of things that are being harmed, what do you see, in terms of relationship with Congress, that are being harmed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain, when you say relations with Congress that are being harmed. I think the President's relations with Congress is not affected by this. But the President is going to do what he thinks is the right thing to do.
He will work with his foreign policy advisors, with his national security team to secure the release of our men and women, and that's where his focus will be.
Q:I mean, sentiment toward China in the Congress, not toward the administration.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, okay, different question. From the President's point of view, there is no doubt that that could be harmed. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will be, and that will particularly manifest itself up on the Hill, where there are several important votes. So there's no question, when the President says that the longer this goes on, the more damage can be done, that includes what members of Congress will come to the conclusion -- the conclusion that members of Congress will come to, vis-a-vis, China.
Q:What step is he on now? You say he's taking it step by step, where are we?
MR. FLEISCHER: He remains in the middle of the diplomatic steps that he has authorized to be taken.
Q:How long will it take, though, and how long of a delay before you do start using the word, hostages? And isn't this setting a precedent? U.S. military personnel are being held away from U.S. diplomats, for most of the day. And doesn't this set a dangerous precedent if you don't start referring to them as hostages?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. From day one, the President's focus has been creating an environment that helps bring our men and women home. And he has kept this in that environment. And he has directed his staff to keep it in that environment and his Secretaries and the diplomats, also, who are doing his bidding, to maintain that environment.
The President believes that is the most productive way to resolve this situation. As Vice President Cheney said yesterday, inflammatory words do not help and this administration will not engage in them.
Q:A follow-up is that the Chinese media reported, for the first time today, really, about the meeting with the Ambassador. Do you find that an encouraging step, in that it looks like they possibly could be preparing their people for a resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Eileen, I'm going to refrain from characterizing any of the play by play, as events go along, each individual event -- the President is going to just continue to let the talks take place. He remains hopeful that this will be resolved soon. And I'm not going to get into the characterization of moment by moment.
Q:Can I ask you also about the crew? What can you tell us about what their daily routine is like? When we, and members of Congress and the public try to assess whether they're detainees, guests or hostages, how much freedom do they have to move around, and how far as they able to go outside? What is it like?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're staying in officers quarters, in the northern end of Hainan. And they are in air conditioned rooms, air conditioned facilities. And they are being well taken care of. Their food is brought in from outside the base, suggesting a higher quality of food for them. All their personal effects are with them. They all, for example, have new tee shirts they were given by United States consular authorities. So they were all wearing the same new tee shirts today. That was reported to the President.
So General Sealock, in his conversation with the President today, said that their spirits are high, that their unit morale is strong. And that's the status of them. They're getting exercise within their rooms. And that's the update and the status of the crew.
Q:They can't leave the rooms, for example?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that information -- that type of movement.
Q:The Washington Times reports that Bill Clinton is scheduled to give a speech next month in China, which is still holding our hostages, as Chairman Henry Hyde has called it. And my question is, has President Bush heard of any Clinton plan to cancel this speech if our people are not released, or does the President believe whatever Clinton does is irrelevant? And I have one follow up.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not aware that the President has kept up with President Clinton's travel plans.
Q:Page one of this morning's Washington Post reports the expressed grief of a mother whose midshipman daughter was gang raped by three Naval Academy football players who were never prosecuted and are, instead, looking forward to, what one of them said, we're going to show them when we play at another school.
Since the Post reported that their victim is white, does the Navy's Commander-in-Chief believe that if three whites raped a black, instead of vice versa, that they would get away with it, as these blacks have, and is Commander Bush going to put up with this?
MR. FLEISCHER: If your question was about what the Navy thinks, I would refer you to the Navy.
Q:No, but I mean, what does the President think, Ari? Do you want to dodge this? What does the President think? He must be aware of it, isn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't talked to the President about that.
Q:I have a two-part question, if I may. We understand that China is going to demand reparations for the plane and for the pilot. Is the Bush administration willing to pay reparations, as a sign of good faith? The second part is that there was a change in words over the weekend -- instead of "regret," this President and the Secretary of State used the word, "sorry." Are we to take any significance from that? Is that anywhere closer to the apology that China is demanding?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of reparations, just like all other questions about specifics that may or may not be discussed between the diplomats, I'm not going to entertain any speculation about specifics like that. As for the word use, it is the position of the United States, as Secretary Powell said yesterday, we do regret that the pilot is missing and perhaps lost. We are sorry as a government that the pilot is missing, perhaps lost. That's what Secretary Powell said yesterday; that is the United States position.
Q:But that's not an apology in any way, shape or form?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not an apology, and we have nothing to apologize for. But we are an humanitarian nation, the United States, and we are led by a humanitarian President, and it is wholly consistent to have no apologies, because we didn't do anything wrong, while feeling regret and feeling sorry about a possible loss of life. That's in the spirit of this country, and properly so.
Q:On that point, Ari, one gets the sense that while the U.S. won't apologize for being there or doing what they were doing, that there is a search for some words that are stronger than regret, but well short of an apology. Is that a fair way to characterize the current process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you've summarized the essence of diplomacy. Diplomacy always is a search for words and agreements to resolve peacefully difficult, contentious matters. And that is the essence of diplomacy, and it is underway.
Q:The Washington Times said the plane was detecting -- the reconnaissance mission was to detect low-grade or underground nuclear testing in China. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on any of those types of questions.
Q:Ari, could the timing of the Taiwan arms sales decision be affected by this crisis? If it still hasn't been resolved by the end of the month, are you going to delay that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: Randy, they're separate decisions, and I've heard no discussions that the timing would be affected by this.
Q:Yes, but Secretary Powell said yesterday that it could certainly influence -- even though it's separate, it could certainly influence the climate in Congress, which seemed to be a message to the Chinese.
MR. FLEISCHER: I answered that question earlier in regard to this affecting what Congress thinks. The question here was on the timing of it, and I have not heard anything about the timing.
Q:Is there a deadline for that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to find out if there's a hard deadline. I don't know what the specific date is, if there is one date.
Q:President Bush this morning specifically said, diplomacy takes time. Is that a signal to the American people to continue to exercise some patience and not try to worry about getting this resolved?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a reflection from the President that he's handling this and talking to the American people about it in a straightforward fashion. He said on Tuesday last week that the time is now for our men and women to come home. And diplomacy does take time, and the President is recognizing that reality and informing the American people about that. Don't read too much more into it than that. But diplomacy does take time. The second part of what the President said was that the more time it takes, the more damage can be done, or will be done, to U.S.-China relations.
Q:Ari, one of the points made over the weekend was that one way that the U.S. and Russia tried to avoid conflict was they had a lot of agreements, working groups, official channels of communication and so on to make sure that those two adversaries were always in touch with each other. Is it the administration's intention to try and create more such working groups and agreements with the Chinese as we move forward in our relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, many such organizations or entities or avenues of communication already do exist, productively so, between the United States and China. And I'm not going to discuss any specifics that may come out of what's being negotiated now. I think that's a fair question that you may want to suspend on and when we have more to say you may learn more about that. And certainly in the future, there always are new avenues, but I'm going to leave it at that.
Q:Back to the AIDS situation real quick. President Clinton is supposed to be going to Nigeria later this month. Obasanjo invited him for the World AIDS Conference. Is there someone from the White House that President Bush is sending there for that event?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have that. Let me try to get back -- information on that one for you.
Q:Ari, is the President feeling any pressure from the business community to wrap the China dispute up promptly, seeing that it has a lot to lose if they lose access to the Chinese market?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the many meetings I've been in on this topic I have not heard anything at all in regard to external groups, business or otherwise. The President's focus is on the diplomatic efforts and on securing the release of our men and women without delay, regardless of any external groups.
Q:Ari, is it a given, or is it assumed by the administration that China will not win accession to the WTO by the time when Congress would have to vote again on PNTR?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to check with congressional affairs to get more precise information on it. As a result of the status of agricultural talks between the United States and China, there was a question about the timing of China's entry into the WTO. If the agricultural provisions have not been resolved in a timely enough manner, it could present an opportunity for Congress to vote on it again.
Q:What do we know about the status of the talks between China and the European Union and the other links that have to be completed before it wins accession?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's something you'd have to check with Bob Zoellick's office about.
Q:Ari, the Secretary of State said yesterday that he had tried early on to broach this issue at the highest levels -- those were his words -- and was told by the Chinese, this has to be handled at the Foreign Ministry. Dr. Rice also said that President Bush's -- a call between President Bush and President Jiang can only be done once, it has to be done at the right time. My question is, has the President wanted to contact President Jiang and he's been told no, or does the President think the time is not right, a few more days before we make a call?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to discuss the exact tactics that the President is using in the middle of this negotiation. I think what you heard a little bit on the shows was that at the very beginning of this it took a little bit of time to get in touch with the proper authorities in Beijing. And as you know, the President -- this incident began at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night last week -- the President did not say anything on Sunday. When we were not able to get clear information about the status of the crew, the President spoke out on Monday so that we could learn about the health of the crew. And the President's statements did lead, of course, to the first meeting that took place with the crew, so we were able to ascertain their status.
Communication is always important, particularly at the appropriate level, dealing with China or dealing with anybody in a time of a back-and-forth issue like this. I hope that answers your question.
Q:With consideration of the Summit of the Americas -- when does President Bush find to promote the trade promotion authority of Congress? We are going to see something in the next few days by the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on the exact timing. As you know, the President is committed -- trade promotion authority to the language that would allow the President to have negotiating authority to enter into agreements that could be submitted to the Congress for an up or down vote.
The President is committed to that. The exact timing has not been determined.
Q:Ari, you said several times today that the focus of the President is getting the crew released. You didn't mention the plane. Is that no longer the part and parcel, to tie together, we want the crew and the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we want the crew, we want the plane. But the President's first focus is, of course, on the crew.
Q:Are the talks at all -- the negotiations, are they over the release of the crew or are they over the release of the crew and the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's over both.
Q:There are talks about both?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:Can you explain how it is you can rule out an apology now, when part of the diplomacy is still finding a mechanism for explanations? Presumably, all the investigations haven't been done. I mean, how can you rule out that there might not be something uncovered that the United States has to apologize for?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the United States has taken a careful look at this matter. And you have heard it said from President Bush, to Vice President Cheney, to Secretary Powell, to National Security Advisor Rice, that while we are sorry about what has taken place involving the wife of the serviceman, and we regret what has taken place, the United States has nothing to apologize for.
Q:Then what's the point of an investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there is always an important -- it is always important to review all the information that all sides would like to make available and to have all those appropriate discussions so that everyone is able to fully have their side heard.
Q:So it is possible that the U.S. pilot did something wrong up there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not saying that, Terry. I'm saying it's important to allow for a mechanism so that all sides can have their side heard.
Q:Ari, the New York Times reports from Beijing that the Pentagon has "put off an announcement that they were going ahead with plans to buy from China more than half a million black berets for the Army." And my question is, did the President order this, or did somebody else, and was he pleased when he found out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to DOD on that. I think DOD recognizes this is a sensitive time, and any timing of the decisions they make is going to reflect --
Q:Is the President happy that they've done this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President authorized DOD to review the matter and --
Q:So he is happy?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is satisfied that DOD is handling it properly.
Q:I'm delighted. Thank you.
Q:Ari, when the President was in the baseball business, he pulled together an investment group that wanted to build a stadium for the Texas Rangers. And the local authority used the power of eminent domain to get the land to build the stadium.
In today's LA Times, there is a proposal floated to use eminent domain in California to take electricity generation plants back into public power, so as to relieve the crisis in California.
Does the President approve of the use of eminent domain for public purposes?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the case of what California is doing, so long as it falls within California law, that's something the President would say California needs to decide. The President is not willing to weigh in on states' business and tell states how to conduct their affairs, so I would refer you to California authorities.
I thought you were going to ask me about the pitch the President threw out Friday night in Milwaukee.
Q:And you were going to say?
MR. FLEISCHER: Davey Lopes said it looked like a strike to him. (Laughter.)
Q:Just on the budget, a macro question. As you know, all around town there are activists and congressional offices pouring over the budget, finding cuts that they are convinced are wrong and are made only so that the tax cut can be afforded, within the framework. What do you make of that argument, which is that the only reason that there are cuts being made in certain programs is so that the President can still say that this tax cut falls within our means?
MR. FLEISCHER: The budget that the President sent up to the Congress today funds America's vital priorities, such as Social Security, Medicare, child care, fighting crime, health care, while paying off a historic amount of debt, and providing tax relief.
What opponents of this budget want to do is spend more government money. The only reason they want to reduce the size of the tax cut is not to pay down more debt, but to spend more money. And it's a classic --
Q:On what? I mean, what are they going spend it on? You keep saying that.
MR. FLEISCHER: They want to spend it on building --
Q:How about on child health and rural health and training doctors and so forth, all these cuts?
MR. FLEISCHER: The opponents of the President's budget seek to reduce the size of the tax cut so they can build the foundation of a permanently bigger government that spends more money on countless areas of government. It's the classic formula for how to build a big government. And that's why
they seek to reduce taxes. The President's budget fully funds and meets our nation's needs, social needs, health care needs, and it does so in a way that restrains the rate of growth to a reasonable level.
There's no shortage of people in this town who will oppose the budget because they want to spend more. And I predict to you that you're going to see this debate play out just along those lines, where people will just want more money to spend on more government programs, which results in a permanently bigger government. But that's why they want to reduce the tax cut, so they can spend it.
Q:Isn't it possible that some of those programs are worthwhile?
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why the President has funded them. I'll give you some of the specific examples.
Q:Those are the ones that people want to spend more on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's budget addresses those spending initiatives.
Q:How about the COPS program? Here's a program that lots of communities think works very well that the President has cut. Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: The COPS programs was a three year commitment made by President Clinton. And the three year commitment has been honored. It's a classic example of when Washington says we're going to fund something for one year, or two years or three years, it's funded forever.
The way spending works in Washington, people make an initial commitment up front to get the money, to spend it for a short period of time, and then they want it forever. Programs never go away in Washington, and that's one of the reasons the government is so big.
But on that measure, the President's budget includes $87 million for front line prosecutors, which includes $9 million to fund juvenile gun prosecutors. It's part of the whole war on crime. There's a $121 million, a 9 percent increase, in the budget for the Drug Enforcement Agency. There's $75 million in the President's budget to provide child safety locks to parents in families who want them. The President calls it project Child Safe.
The police funding also will allow localities to have more flexibility in their determinations. But when that program was sold to local enforcement agencies, they were told, and they agreed, that it would be a three year program. The three year commitment has been kept.
Q:Ari, just one more on that. Not programs that you think are wasteful, but this was a campaign promise that you guys made a big deal about at the time, which was the debt-for-nature-swap-- it was in the speech in Miami. And he's not asking -- he proposed at the time I think $100 million. And there is no new funding on that. I mean, this is a Republican initiative.
MR. FLEISCHER: There is new funding on the debt for -- on the debt for rain forest program that the President talked about. In last year's budget, the government was able to spend $6 million on the debt for rain forest program. The budget that the President has submitted today includes $32 million for that program, an increase of more than fivefold. What took place during the --
Q:But that includes the money from the last two previous years. That's not new funding, it's $13 million --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's $32 million is the total spending for the program. But it underscores the point, they were only able to spend $6 million last year. There are certain programs that no matter how much money you give them, they can't spend it all. And this is one of them. And that's not surprising, that's nothing new in government, that people get money, it's sitting there, and it's not going to any good purpose because they simply cannot spend it, because they don't have the ability, they don't have the need, and just cannot be spent at the rate in which it's given. This program is an example of that.
The President's commitment remains just as firmly intact as ever. He was funding it at a level that we think they will be able to increase the funding to, a fivefold increase. And any agency, whether it's a private sector agency or a government agency, when you give people fivefold increases, there's always a question of will they have the ability to spend it and do so in a way that's effective.
We believe a fivefold increase is the right way to get it done. To increase it any more than that is going to, again, leave money that goes unspent. And that always leads to, again, money being plowed back in the following year, or unwise spending decisions, as bureaucrats rush to spend because they have it. And that's not the way to do good budgeting.
Q:So why did he pledge $100 million at the time then, if it was a program that didn't need the funding in the first place? MR. FLEISCHER: I think as the Office of Management and Budget reviewed that particular program, they determined that because they were only able to spend $6 million last year, the $32 million figure would be a more effective way than the $100 million figure. So new information came to light.
Q:Ari, Senator Harkin today is accusing Lockheed-Martin of using an accounting trick to gouge taxpayers out of $100 million. The two top people in the Department -- President Bush's two top people in the Department of Transportation, Norman Mineta and Michael Jackson, are from Lockheed-Martin.
Is the President concerned at all -- and Lockheed-Martin obviously has a lot of business before the Department of Transportation. Is the President concerned at all of this appearance of Lockheed-Martin in control of the Department of Transportation, number one; and number two, of a tax gouger being in charge of the Department of Transportation --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, Secretary Mineta is a man of great respect, a former member of Congress, a former Cabinet member, and that's how he's viewed in this administration. And if there are any irregularities, the President is confident they will be looked at and fully explored and will be corrected, if any are found. He has nothing but faith in Secretary Mineta.
Q:The irrepressible Judicial Watch is now saying it's going to go after Tom DeLay for what it claims are efforts to sell access to the administration and the President. Does the White House have any view on the validity of those claims or whether or not there is any evidence of what they're claiming?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no validity to what they are claiming. If they're referring to the fundraising letter that Congressman DeLay sent out, it looked like your run-of-the-mill, routine fundraising letter.
Thank you, everybody. And Mitch Daniels will be here to brief shortly.
END 1:46 P.M. EDT
Ari Fleischer, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271560