Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:24 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon, thank you for joining us. I have no announcements, just want to make certain that if we haven't circulated it yet, you will be shortly getting the copies of the executive orders the President signed earlier today, creating the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
I'm happy to take any questions.
Q:Ari, why should this faith-based initiative not be interpreted as an unconstitutional funding of religious institutions in America?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because as the President made clear in his statements just a little while ago that this will not be funding religion, but this will be funding faith-based organizations of a wide variety of views that bring social help to people in need. It's not the religious aspect of what they do that's getting funded, it's the community service aspect and there are other parts of this, too, that increase -- focus on increasing peoples' ability to give to charity and to nonprofits.
Q:How do you make the distinction, when it's all going on under the same roof?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the programs that they will provide are not going to be programs that preach religion. They're going to be faith-based programs --
Q:How do you know that?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- that help people to improve their lives, which has been the experience that we have seen already with some of the faith-based programs that are privately funded, that are big successes.
Q:What about the idea that religious organizations don't have to adhere to civil rights laws, and they may not be held to the same standards as private organizations who provide these social outreach functions --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus will be on helping programs that work. He takes a look at the poor in our society, the people who have the most difficult needs, and he sees a need to help those people to improve their lives. And he recognizes that there are limits to what government programs can do. But that doesn't mean that our country and our society should give up on those who are in need -- addicts, alcoholics, the homeless, as he explained earlier today. And so he wants to find ways that work. And we have seen throughout our society that these faith-based programs, which often are strapped for cash, do work. They do improve people's lives. And that's why he is determined to push ahead.
Q:What about the two concerns that I just raised? Might he put into legislation or might there be a proviso for funding that they have to adhere to the same civil rights laws that private organizations do, and that their people have to be subject to the same certification as other social outreach organizations that are private and not religious?
MR. FLEISCHER: You will see the proposal that he makes tomorrow. You can evaluate it and, of course, we'll be pleased to work with the Congress on any other issues that come up.
Q:Does he address those concerns, specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll see tomorrow. He's making the proposal tomorrow.
Q:Let me ask about the prescription drug plan. When do you intend to put it out? I think last week I heard you say that you thought there was a lot of room for compromise on that issue.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll be putting it out early this afternoon. The President will be having a meeting with Chairman Grassley and with Chairman Thomas, and we'll be following that meeting. The President intends to send the proposal up to Capitol Hill, and that proposal will be just like he discussed during the course of the campaign -- an Immediate Helping Hand so we can get prescription drugs to low-income, needy seniors.
Q:Did I hear you right when you said that -- I thought you said that there was a lot of room for compromise with Democrats on that. And, if so, what makes you think that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the whole question of Medicare reform must be bipartisan. You cannot have a one-party approach to reform in Medicare. The Medicare program is much too important and much to central to the lives of our seniors. And so any proposal that anybody makes on Medicare, whether it's giving prescription drugs to seniors or whether it's structural reforms that involve Part A, Part B, all need to be explored in a fashion that brings Democrats and Republicans together.
I would remind you that we came very close in the last Congress; there was a bipartisan commission on Medicare reform. It had, I believe, 10 of the 17 members of the commission agreed on a recommendation. It was not welcomed by the previous White House, but there certainly is a mood for bipartisanship on Medicare reform, and President Bush will welcome it.
Q:Ari, do you see this legislation moving as a separate bill or as a part of a broader reform either with prescription drugs or --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's preference is that it move as a separate bill. That's what he announced during the campaign. At the same time, the President is very encouraged by what is a strong showing of strength for bipartisan Medicare reform. He is aware that there are some important people in the Congress who have expressed reservations about it moving as a separate bill, and we'll be pleased to work with them.
Q:Ari, on the faith-based thing, as I understand it, you're kind of separating the overtly religious aspects from the community service aspects. Why doesn't that same kind of thinking apply to these international family planning groups that were saying, well, we're not using your federal dollars for abortion. We're getting that from some place else. The response here was, well, we've got to cut you off because you can't --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we explored that issue last week. You know why the President did that. His reasons were clear.
Q:On that question, a lot of these organizations work when people see the light, when they accept a faith. And so isn't this, in effect, government funding conversions?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is a voluntary program where those who seek to participate should have other options. We as a society have to face up to the fact that there are so many people in need who government programs aren't getting the job done. That doesn't mean we should walk away from those people. They need help, and the government can play a role through faith-based communities and nonprofits in delivering that help. The government shouldn't walk away or leave people languishing on welfare simply because some people raised questions about faith-based groups. Faith-based groups can often be the answer that helps people get off the street and back into life.
Q:A lot of these groups hire only people of their religion and work only for people of their religion. Isn't that discrimination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think as we just saw from the variety of people who participated in a very powerful meeting with the President, we have people from all walks of life, all religious faiths and backgrounds joined together in saying that the power of faith can lift up peoples' lives. And what's important is you let people voluntarily make the decision that they want to enter a certain program, and that's the first way to get them help.
If you're an addict, if you're an alcoholic -- it's very hard to be helped if you don't take that first step, yourself, to seek help. And we should welcome people to seek help where it can do them most good.
Q:Even some churches are concerned that there will be strings attached to the federal money, and this can be a way to influence the churches.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you'll see in the proposals he sends up tomorrow, and as they take the legislative path and as the bill works its way through the Congress, all concerns will be addressed. But the President is going to push ahead. He believes this is vital to helping improve the fabric of our society in this country.
In fact, one of the things he said in the meeting with the leaders is he said, the reason this will work is because America is full of love. And he believes very deeply that the reason we have a lot of people who are still in poverty, despite a myriad of government programs that have cost trillions of dollars, is because the government programs aren't always the best solution. So don't give up, capture the compassion of the American people and put it to work.
Q:Do you expect the issue to wind up in the courts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we can draft something that is fully in accordance with the Constitution and, frankly, I think you're also going to see a large outpouring of bipartisan support for this. It gets sent up tomorrow and we'll monitor it.
Q:On the question of prescription drugs, the complaint is that even though you're program is aimed at the poorest, virtually every senior has a problem paying for prescription drugs because they're so expensive and inflations is so high. How much wiggle room is there in your proposal to cover some of those people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the President's proposal, it was a two-part proposal, the first part was a four year, $48 billion Immediate Helping Hand that would get prescription drug coverage to seniors, the neediest seniors.
His comprehensive Medicare reform, which tracks with many other visions of comprehensive reform on the Hill, would be broader in nature, it would help more seniors.
Q:Will it ultimately be a universal kind of benefit, as the Democrats have talked about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's comprehensive proposal did apply to all seniors.
Q:Ari, at his press briefing last week, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said, "It is not helpful to have Saddam Hussein's regime in power." He said, this is now a government policy. If it is government policy, what specifically is the President going to do to remove Saddam Hussein from power and does that possibly include military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has made his position clear on that before, that we will protect America's interests and the region's interests in that area of the world. And we are prepared to do so, if necessary.
Q:On the executive order, can you explain to us the difference between what the President can do by executive order and what he needs legislation for?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the executive orders create the offices within the executive branch. He signed two executive orders today; the first creates within the administration the post of Office of Faith-based and Community Activity that reports directly to the President. The second executive order he signed creates in five various agencies, government Cabinet-level departments, those which work closest with people in their social problems and poverty, it created an office within each of those agencies to also find new solutions to old problems.
Beyond that, the legislation that we will send up tomorrow are going to be issues that require congressional action. For example, allowing all Americans to have a deduction for money they give to charity. In 1986, under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, 70 million Americans were denied the right to get a deduction for money they gave to charity. That was part of '86 reform. The President will propose tomorrow allowing all Americans, not just those who itemize their taxes, to get a deduction for giving money to charity. That will be one of the proposals he sends up to the Hill.
Q:Ari, do you have to deal with legislation by some of the questions that were asked here about discrimination, possible discrimination, and so on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, anything that goes beyond the power of an executive order will have to be dealt with legislatively.
Q:What's wrong with itemizing charity?
MR. FLEISCHER: People should be able to itemize their charitable deductions, but that doesn't mean that those who aren't in a position where they itemize should be denied a deduction of their own. So this extends one of the best benefits of our society to those who give to charity. We shouldn't divide people --
Q:But those who accept it don't have to itemize, is that what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, these are the givers, those who give money to charity. And, typically, those --
Q:Why couldn't they itemize it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the only people who itemize, typically, are people who own a home and pay interest expenses on their home, or live in high property-tax states. There are 70 million Americans who, just because their income tax circumstances, don't itemize. And they should not be discriminated against by the tax code when they, too, give to charity.
Q:Ari, on the Marc Rich pardon, is the administration -- can you describe any efforts the administration is now going through to seek to overturn the pardon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me, on the issue of possibility of any action on a pardon, while the President may not agree with the pardons that his predecessor put in place, his predecessor did make those decisions in accordance with his constitutional prerogatives, which brings us to a bigger issue. President Bush will not explore whether or not he has the authority to take any action in the case of his predecessor's pardons. The President, under the Constitution, has unfettered authority to grant pardons, and that is President Bush's position.
Q:-- that he is opposed to the pardon, though? Your language there is the first, to date, suggesting that the President disagrees with the decision to give Marc Rich a pardon.
MR. FLEISCHER: I addressed that broadly. I said that while the President may not have agreed with all the pardons his predecessor granted --
Q:Does he agree with this pardon?
MR. FLEISCHER: These are the decisions that President Clinton was able to make under his Constitutional prerogatives, and we're going to work forward, not backward.
Q:Well, but his status moves forward. I mean, you may not want to look backward, but the truth is that his status and his pardon and the resolution of his particular case and his citizenship in whichever country he lives is moving forward. Does he not have a view on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: His position was settled in accordance with the Constitution when the previous President took the actions he's entitled to take.
Q:Ari, WCBM in Baltimore wants to know, do you and the President acknowledge that Baltimore is now the much bigger apple? And does the President believe it was wrong for Jerusalem's Temple Mount to be visited by General Sharon, because the Temple Mount should be given to Yasser Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a connection between the two questions? (Laughter.)
Q:But he has no follow up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: In deference to the President and the Cowboys, I take no position on the first question.
Q:You don't think that they are the much greater -- much bigger apple, Ari, really?
MR. FLEISCHER: In deference, I defer.
Q:All right, what about the second one?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ask that again?
Q:Does the President believe it was wrong for Jerusalem's Temple Mount to be visited by General Sharon, because the Temple Mount should be given to Yasser Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not asked the President that question.
Q:Could you ask him?
Q:Ari, can we have a readout on the energy meeting that took place earlier today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President addressed a lot of it when he brought the pool in at the end of the meeting. And the President today convened a group to focus on our comprehensive national long-term energy needs. He is directing this group to develop a long-term energy strategy. As you know, during the course of the campaign, the President promulgated an energy plan, and this group will help now to develop it, put it together.
Q:Ari, how much was California a focus of this meeting? Was any new ground broken on California?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no new ground broken.
Q:How much of it was talked about?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was national. The purpose of the meeting was national. California's energy situation was discussed, of course. But the purpose of it is to focus on a national solution. But you can't talk about a national energy policy without also talking about California. California is terribly important.
Q:Ari, someone said at that meeting that there was evidence that the California problem is spilling over into western states. What evidence does he see of that, and what time table did he give the Vice President for delivering?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's spilling over in a couple different ways. One is that you have industries that are dependent on hydro power and other sources of energy which are now being shipped to California facing difficulties. In the Pacific Northwest, there are some aluminum plants that are shutting down. In Arizona, the agriculture community is being affected as a result of the sales to California.
On the other side of the equation, of course, any time you have a problem related to energy, in a state that is as large and important and significant as California, that has a spill-over effect on the neighboring states and on the rest of the economy. Energy represents approximately 6 percent of our nation's GDP, and the cost for consumers for energy are going up nationally, as well, of course, as in California. So it has an effect in both directions, which is another reminder of why our nation needs a national, comprehensive energy policy. And President Bush intends to fight for one.
Q:Ari, you said that the President won't be doing anything going forward on the Marc Rich pardon. Was he doing anything -- was anybody in the administration or any of the other agencies doing anything last week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our lawyers were looking into the question of whether one President has any options in succeeding another President. And the President has not taken action, so nothing will proceed.
Q:So they've reported to the President and he's --
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no formal report. The lawyers just started looking into things and the President -- President Bush has made the determination that the President -- as I said, there's a bigger issue involved here, and that is the President's constitutional prerogatives are unfettered when it comes to pardons.
Q:Did the lawyers look into on their own, or did the President or somebody on his staff ask them to?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it began with the Justice Department and lawyers, as lawyers do, they ask questions and think about things.
Q:By putting the Vice President in charge of this energy task force, do you not raise the possibility of concerns that any policy he comes up with be favorable to oil companies, rather than consumers?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that the policies they come up with will increase America's supply. One of the factors that we've seen is that supply -- our demand has grown nine times in the last -- I don't have the exact number of years -- but particularly in California, where no new supply has been brought on line, no new plants have been built, but demand is surging. There's a lot of that as the result of the strength of the economy; the high-tech community, which thrives on electricity.
So to address an imbalance, what's important, in the President's opinion, is to increase supply. And we need to increase our supply from domestic supplies, which means oil, it means natural gas, it means coal, it means clean burning coal. That's where the focus will be, to a substantial degree. There will be other measures, as well, as we work forward.
But the President believes there is a supply-demand imbalance and the best way to address it is to increase America's supply.
Q:Well, is there no way to try curbing demand, at the same time?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are efforts to curb demand, of course. And the President has proposed increased money for weatherization as part of his national energy policy; he's proposed an increase in funding for LIHEAP. And all of that can be helpful.
But the imbalance question is best addressed by increasing America's demand -- I mean, America's supply, not only so we can bring prices down to the American consumer, but also so we avoid an unnecessary over-reliance on foreign supplies.
Q:Has the President gotten around to reading the letter from President Putin, and has he responded to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has read the letter, as he indicated last week. I do not believe any reply has been sent at this time.
Q:On prescription drugs, you indicated there was something of a consensus -- before the election campaign. If that's true, why not proceed on a broader plan on the basis of the consensus that was in Congress, rather then on the helping hand? Why not go ahead and build on what you already have on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President believes that we need to move as quickly as possible to get prescription drugs, particularly to low income seniors. It has been the experience of Washington that broader reforms typically take more time. But as I indicated, the President is aware of some of the concerns that have been raised on the Hill about his Immediate Helping Hand proposal. He will send it up there today, and he will look forward to working with Congress on it.
Q:Well, he seemed to indicate that he was willing, as he says on many of these things, that he is willing to listen to other ideas. If Congress were able to move forward quickly on a broader reform, I take it that he would be willing to sign on to that effort and drop this one.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's concern is twofold: one, how do you get prescription drugs to seniors as quickly as possible, because they need them. But, secondly, we need to reform a Medicare system that was created in the early 1960s, when medicine was practiced in an entirely different fashion than what our nation enjoys now. And we need to modernize the Medicare system. And there have been many different people on the Hill of both parties who, for the last several years, have worked actively to come up with a bipartisan Medicare reform. Senator Breaux, Chairman Thomas are a couple examples of people. And we believe we can make a lot of progress on that issue this year.
Q:Ari, one other things, while we're talking here. Have you received an offer from President Clinton to pay for damages in the White House if, in fact, you can provide him with a list of such damages?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I'm aware of, Jim.
Q:Ari, can I ask a question? Every day are you just going to come out of more and more layoffs; major industries and enterprises are doing that. The President's plan to reduce taxes, according to Chairman Greenspan, will take some time for the effects to kick in -- what is the President doing right now? Is he meeting with his Treasury Secretary? What are the plans the White House is considering to reactivate the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, he has the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee coming today. He will have additional meetings with members of Congress. He has Leader Daschle coming. And we are taking a look at our tax proposal to see if there's anything that can be modified in it, with an eye toward either retroactivity or earlier phase-ins that the President believes could be constructive for the economy.
Q:Ari, going back a minute to energy. Since the energy crisis of '73, and probably before, there have been suggestions from this building to try and come up with new energy policies, new types of fuels -- cleaner, et cetera. And, yet, it's always come back to the same problem, America's reliance on foreign oil. And many of the nations, if not most, we get oil from are members of OPEC. What is the President doing successfully to try and get OPEC to lower or increase production?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would differ in part on the question. It's not just foreign oil. It is America's ability to produce its own energy. For example, we have large, large reserves up in a small portion of Alaska. And the President has proposed opening up 8 percent of that area of Alaska to exploration, so we can protect America's security, so we can produce energy that the American people can use. American energy for the American consumer.
So there are a series of steps that we can take domestically. And, of course, with every barrel of domestic output that we increase, that is one less barrel that we need to rely on other nations for.
Q:But we still have the problem with OPEC, OPEC curtailing production, which means prices go up on the world market. The President has stated he wants to deal with OPEC to try and reduce that. Any success so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that will be a part of long term diplomacy, of our relations with our allies, not only with OPEC, but in other oil producing regions of the world which supply us our energy. As you know, Mexico is a supplier to this country, and the President, of course, will be meeting with President Fox shortly.
Q:Ari, I noticed the prescription drug plan is being introduced with less fanfare than the education plan last week. Is that a sign you're less than confident about its chances on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'd just say it's a sign of a very busy day today. We have several news worthy announcements today, and that is one of them.
Q:But, why today? Why not some ceremony to roll out prescription drugs? It was a big part of the campaign.
MR. FLEISCHER: We have other busy events tomorrow and the following day. It's always just a question of scheduling. But the President is committed to it, and we're going to send it up and see what we can't make happen. But we are aware that there are some sensitivities on this issue. Some concerns have been raised.
Q:I want to come back to faith-based. I talked with Reverend Rivers of the Ten Point Coalition. He said that he doesn't have a problem if this new legislation spells out separate branches of his organization, specifically as you deal with the social service component, to make sure that everyone is honest. I know you don't want to get into details until tomorrow, but is there a fire wall that organizations are going to have to establish to make sure that they're not supporting their religious activities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you heard the President address that today. That this is not going to fund religion, but this is going to fund faith-based groups that provide social services.
Q:Ari, on that same subject, if I can follow up. I don't see why there's not a double standard at work here. The President is saying a taxpayer who opposes abortion shouldn't have to suffer his money to go to a group that provides international family planning counseling, even though it just may happen to also advocate abortion. But it's okay for a taxpayer, let's say me, to see my money go to someone who advocates actively conversion to a religion that's different from ours. Why is that not a double standard?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you've misstated the program. There won't be any focus on conversion. That's not what the programs do.
Q:Are you denying that any of these groups seek to convert people?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the faith-based social services side of the program.
Q:But they are talking about groups that do actively seek to convert you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that on this issue, you're going to see a profound level of support from the American people on a bipartisan basis. It's also an area, interestingly, that Senator Lieberman reminded us during the course of the campaign, about the role that faith can play in our fabric of society.
Q:But you don't see a double standard between the abortion executive order and the --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't. In fact, domestically, that's been the long-standing policy of the country that you are addressing as international.
Q:As governor, the President had a lot of these initiatives in place. Is there any hard evidence as to how effective or successful they were? Not anecdotal, but is there any evidence that more prisoners got off of drugs, or whatever?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is. Chuck Colson, during the meeting, told the President that during the prison ministry program in Texas that the recidivism rate is way below the recidivism rate for people who do not participate in the program. And I would refer you to that program. And I think if you interview many of the people who came in, they'll share with you their success stories, Floyd Flake, for example. There are a series of success stories. But the prison ministry program in Texas is one in particular.
Q:There's no body of data here that you're relying on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually that did come up at the meeting and they talked about that once these programs are up and funded that we would welcome bodies of data to show the success and to make it empirical, as well. We will not shy away --
Q:Would there be the same sort of accountability standards that you want for the schools in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll see that as it develops in the legislative process. The President's focus will be on those programs that work, as he has said. And so if a program is proved to be working, he is going to fund it. If a program is not working, he's going to look for alternatives.
Q:Ari, the equation on the energy situation, you talk about oil, gas and coal. It seems as if nuclear has completely disappeared. Why this
bias? Is this like a Texas bias towards oil and coal? Or is there a concern about commercial problems of building nuclear? But you're talking about getting energy --
MR. FLEISCHER: I would you refer you to the President's energy policy that he announced in September of last year. There is, I believe, a streamlining component that deals with nuclear -- you need to check that. But there was a small portion in there that dealt with that.
Q:There was a very small portion there, but every time everyone in the administration is asked about this -- Vice President Cheney yesterday, you today -- it's oil, gas and coal. It's like nuclear --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the purpose of this group is to develop the strategy, and if people have other ideas they would like to submit, of course, I think the group will have their ears open.
Q:I don't know if you can explain this, but I've never really understood the true division of church and state in this country. We swear people in, we use bibles, we have "in God we trust," we have chaplains on Capitol Hill. Where is there a real division?
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think, frankly, in the hearts and the minds of the American people, there is scant a sense of that. I think the American people recognize that we need to be sensitive to make certain that there is no proselytizing, for example. However, the American people also recognize that there are social problems that are not getting solved by the government, and that there is a vital role that we can play as a compassionate society to help those who are less fortunate through faith-based programs.
Q:Whenever this administration talks about increasing supply it always looks to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But it seems that we've got a bit of a tax cut problem here and that it's going to take years for the ANWR to come on line, and then any natural gas that's in there will only last a few years. So how does that fit into both a short-term and a long-term reduction of reliance on foreign oil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the supplies that come out of there are so massive, they will last for an extended, long period of time. I think what some of the opponents have done is said that if America has no energy from anywhere else other than this region of Alaska, then it will only last a certain period of time. Well, of course, we do have energy supplies from other places. You can't pretend we don't. But it's indicative of a mind set in Washington that we keep lurching from short-term problem to short-term problem.
President Bush is determined to focus on a long-term solution, so that his successors and their successors will not be back in the same box that he is in today. We have inherited this energy crisis, this looming energy crisis. One of the reasons is we did not have from the previous administration a long-term energy policy in place. President Bush's focus will indeed be long-term.
But short-term steps can be taken, if there are any, we will see. But if a government only lurches from short-term crisis to short-term crisis, that government will never solve their nation's long-term problems.
Q:Are you suggesting there may not be anything you can do short-term?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to see. We've announced this group today. But, again, short-term, we'd have to make certain that we address the fundamental imbalances between supply and demand. That does take time.
Q:On faith-based organizations, Ari, who makes the decision about who gets the money? To what extent will the White House be involved in determining who gets grants, and to what extent will it remain in the departments with those who oversee grant programs --
MR. FLEISCHER: Standard procedures, just as the government has always done over time with organizations that are qualified to receive funds. There is a set, written procedure that goes through the agencies, where the agencies make grants. I'd also draw your attention to the fact that one of the programs the President is focused on is after-school children. There is a need to help parents, working parents, whose children after school have no place to go.
President Clinton identified this as a national need, and the former President opened up -- decided to open up 10 percent of a grant program to competition for after-school funds to non-school groups. Previously, it was restricted to only schools could apply. President Clinton saw the merits in opening up that program to 10 percent. So he already established the principle that others ought to apply. President Bush proposes to open up to 100 percent.
Q:Were religious groups included in that 10 percent?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe they were, under the previous President's proposal. He opened up 10 percent to competition. The exact way it would have worked out would have been dealt with by the agencies.
President Bush's proposal is to open it up to 100 percent funding. That's the 21st century -- I believe it's called the 21st Century Fund. It's an educational program.
Q:How much, and when was it created?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that information, David.
Q:Did he do that by executive order or by legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Legislation. That requires legislation, that's correct.
Q:On prescription drugs, given that there's little enthusiasm on the Hill for tackling the issue twice, which would President Bush prefer? The short-term helping hand or a long-term solution? He may only get one --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's one of the reasons he's having leaders down here. He had leaders down here last week. He'll have leaders down here this week to talk to him about it, to listen to their thoughts and concerns. But we always announce it as a first part of a two-part process: to get prescription drugs to the nation's neediest seniors, and also to develop comprehensive Medicare reform.
But I want to point something out, because I think this is part of the healthy signs of bipartisanship we're already seeing. I think there's agreement among Democrats and Republicans. We must get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors. The question is how, and that's a healthy position for our nation and our seniors to be in.
Q:There seems to be a bipartisan agreement that this helping hand is not the way to go right now. It seems to be they want to do a long-term solution.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, We'll see. We'll see. As I said, we're sending it up today, and we will be receptive to ideas that come from the Congress. But it's not inconsistent or incompatible that this becomes part of a longer, broader Medicare reform, if that is the will of the process.
Q:What about drug re-importation as a stopgap? Would you consider that as a possibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on that.
Q:On economic issues, the IMF has lowered its world economic growth forecast rather sharply from 4.2 percent to 3.5 percent, mainly because of economic slowdown in this country. Do you have any reaction to that, especially with international implications of an economic slowdown in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly. There is growing evidence that the American economy has been slowing down for quite a considerable period of time, and President Bush has identified that as one of the reasons he wants to move forward with his tax package. And he will do so. Of course, we are a very big driver of the world's economy, and that's another reason for concern, that's another reason that we're going to seek bipartisanship in passing the President's tax cut. It's important to our economy, it's important to the global economy. Q:On the name of the new office, Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, does that suggest that you want to also increase your involvement with grassroots groups that are not religiously based? Is that going to be part of this as well, or do you have to be religiously based to participate in the new programs you're setting up?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it opens up to nonprofits of other natures as well. There are nonprofits, there are community groups that would be eligible now to compete, which previously were not eligible to compete. And so it's much broader than simply faith-based. And again, that's another reason to expand people's options to give charitable deductions. There will be other proposals in here helping the states to encourage charitable giving within state tax structures. So it's a multi-pronged effort that focuses on community, nonprofit and faith-based to deliver social services.
Q:Ari, in terms of who may be getting the funding, there are some groups who may apply who -- like, say, the Nation of Islam or the Branch Davidians. How are you going to gauge who is appropriate to get the money?
MR. FLEISCHER: As with all federal grant programs, all the regulations get worked out by the agencies.
END 12:55 P.M. EST
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/271490