Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have a statement on Burma, before taking your questions.
The President and Mrs. Bush remain concerned about the reports of violence and intimidation that continue to come out of Burma. The United States is pleased that U.N. Special Envoy Gambari was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Gambari remains in Burma in order to see the top junta leader, Than Shwe. We think it is important that they meet and that a process of national reconciliation can begin.
The United States is committed to working with countries around the world and especially those in the region to move Burma to a peaceful transition to democracy. President Bush had a good meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang last week. And today Jim Jeffrey, the Deputy National Security Advisor, will meet with Chinese Ambassador Zhou to the United States to further these discussions.
I think it's important to note comments made on Friday night by Chinese Premier Wen. He said that China is very much concerned with the situation and hopes that all parties show restraint, resume stability through peaceful means as soon as possible, promote domestic reconciliation and achieve democracy and development. The Chinese Premier said that China will continue to work with the international community to actively facilitate the proper solution to the problem.
I'll take your questions.
Q: Do you have any reason to believe that junta leaders will meet with the U.N. Envoy?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any reason to believe one way or the other. We -- he is there waiting to meet with him and as soon as we have an update, we'll provide it.
Q: And the protests, themselves, seem to have been stilled. What do you make of that?
MS. PERINO: Well, unfortunately, intimidation and force can chill peaceful demonstrations. And reports about very innocent people being thrown into detention, where they could be held for years without any representation or charges, is distressing; and we understand that some of the monasteries have been sealed. Now, obviously, this has, again, a chilling effect on protestors, but we would ask that everyone show restraint and allow those who want to express themselves to be able to do so in Burma.
Q: How can the President justify spending billions for a war and denying child health care sanctions in this country, where the needs are there?
MS. PERINO: Well, there are obviously very [sic] two different issues. The President is for the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. He wants to extend it by 20 percent for the next five years. There are those in Congress who want to expand it even further. And what we see -- we see that as a step towards more government-controlled health care. That is a policy difference that the President has.
Q: That doesn't meet -- I mean, you're projecting into a future, you're worried about socialized medicine. But what about the needs today for kids?
MS. PERINO: That's exactly what we want to do, is to try to focus the program back to its original intent -- which was passed by Republicans in 1997 and signed into law by Bill Clinton -- which was to take care of children from poor families that did not qualify for Medicaid, but still needed some help in being covered for insurance.
That's what the S-CHIP program has been. Unfortunately, over the last several years, states have increased the number of people that get the insurance that are well above 200 percent of the poverty level, which is the line that they're supposed to be at. And this program, in fact, eliminates the requirement that 95 percent of the funds go to children who are eligible at 200 percent of poverty level. We'd like to see the neediest children taken care of first, and that's where the policy difference is.
Q: And you're saying that you will be taking care of all of the neediest children -- child health care?
MS. PERINO: We believe our funding proposal is sufficient to cover the kids we expect to be covered by S-CHIP in the next five years.
Q: Democrats argue that most of the benefits under their version of the bill will still go to the neediest children, the people in the lower, I think, half of the income span.
MS. PERINO: Well, what I can tell you is that we would like to see the requirement that S-CHIP go to the children who need it the most. And they took out, explicitly took out a requirement that said that 95 percent of those children have to be taken care of first. We think that that is where we should be focusing these dollars, not towards children who have families that have higher incomes.
Now, admittedly, there are some families that -- you know, at $60,000 might still have trouble in meeting those-- meeting the payments. But we believe that ensuring that employers continue to provide health care to those families is very critical to ensuring that we have a competitive private market system. We don't want to move people from private health insurance on to government-controlled insurance, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would be about 2.1 million people would move off of private insurance onto government-controlled insurance.
Q: Is this more about avoiding incursions into the private insurance market?
MS. PERINO: Not -- the main principle that the President stands on is that the neediest children should be taken care of first, and over the years that has not been the case. We estimate there are 750,000 children who could be covered by the State Health -- Child's Health Insurance Program who currently aren't on the program. Whereas many other families above the 200 percent of poverty level and up to 400 percent of the poverty level are being covered by it, including some adults.
Now the legislation and the President would like to see adults taken off of this program. If adults needs this type of care, we would encourage them to look into the Medicaid program, where they can get taken care of with insurance in that program.
Q: Democrats say you're taking medical care away from children.
MS. PERINO: Well, I strongly disagree. And I would be surprised if the children who are outside today protesting knew that the President is actually in favor of expanding S-CHIP. And the principle he stands on is that the neediest should be taken care of first. And I believe that other -- the children who are protesting today as part of that demonstration would agree that the neediest children should be taken care of first.
Q: Where does the President get his numbers?
MS. PERINO: Through his Office of Management and Budget.
Q: But he stands by them --
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: Dana, the administration has made a real point of saying a lot of weapons in Iraq, or a significant amount, have come from Iran. And critics have suggested that those weapons could have been stockpiled in Iraq earlier, could have been captured by Saddam -- they don't necessarily come from the Iranian government. How do you know that these are new weapons? I mean, this is an argument that the Pentagon has cited --
MS. PERINO: I would refer you to the Department -- yes, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, who has the information, and also our intelligence agencies that have information, and Department of Defense officials, including Secretary Gates and General Pace have made public comments as well as General Bergner and General Petraeus. They know that the weapons -- some of these weapons are coming from Iran, and I would just have to refer you to them.
Q: Dana, can I follow on that?
MS. PERINO: Follow on that? Okay.
Q: Yes, follow on that. This weekend the New Yorker magazine came out with an article claiming that this summer the President, or at least the White House in general, asked the Joint Chiefs to redraw plans to attack Iran. Is that true?
MS. PERINO: Look, you know, I'm glad you brought it up. Every two months or so, Sy Hersh writes an article in The New Yorker magazine, and CNN provides him a forum in which to talk about his article and all the anonymous sources that are quoted in it.
Q: So the President --
MS. PERINO: The President has said that he believes that there is a diplomatic solution that we can use to solve the Iranian problem. And that's why we're working with our allies to get there.
Q: That's what he said before we went to Iraq, too.
Q: But what's the -- can you answer actually on the substance of whether or not the White House asked -- I mean, if it's not true, then you can say Sy Hersh is wrong and CNN was wrong to air it. You could say that, but --
MS. PERINO: We don't discuss such things, Ed.
Q: -- what about the substance of whether we --
MS. PERINO: We don't discuss such things. What we have said and what we are working towards is a diplomatic solution in Iran. What the President has also said is that as a President, as a Commander-in-Chief -- and any Commander-in-Chief -- would not take any option off the table. But the option that we are pursuing right now is diplomacy.
Q: But the article very specifically said that this summer in a video conference -- secure video conference with Ambassador Crocker, the President said that he was thinking about "hitting Iran" and also --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on -- one, I don't know. I wouldn't have been at any -- at that type of a meeting. I don't know. I'm not going to comment on any possible -- any possible scenario that an anonymous source, you know, continues to feed into Sy Hersh. I'm just not going the do it.
Q: Why should anybody believe that the President wants diplomatic solutions? He said that before going into Iraq.
MS. PERINO: The President sought a diplomatic solution in Iraq and Saddam Hussein defied the U.N. Security Council 17 times.
Q: Some of the history we've learned since suggests otherwise.
MS. PERINO: That the President didn't -- that Saddam Hussein defied 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions?
Q: No, that the President was intent on going to war in Iraq in any case.
MS. PERINO: No, the President pursued a diplomatic option. He went to the U.N. Security Council, and then we proceeded.
Q: Did he consult -- would he tell Congress before attacking Iran -- before he attacks Iran?
MS. PERINO: Helen, we are pursuing a diplomatic solution with Iran.
Q: I'm asking you does he feel committed to ask Congress for permission?
MS. PERINO: We are pursuing a diplomatic solution in Iran.
Q: Dana, do you have any reaction to Putin's announcement that he could become Prime Minister?
MS. PERINO: We saw the reports, and this is ultimately a matter for the people of Russia to decide. We will be paying very close attention to the upcoming elections in Russia and we urge them to conduct them in a manner that is free, fair and democratic. Beyond that, I don't have any additional comment. We just saw the reports.
Q: Dana, a couple on Burma/Myanmar.
MS. PERINO: Burma. (Laughter.)
Q: I appreciate that it's official U.S. policy. You've talked a lot about Chinese -- outreach to the Chinese, and not so much about outreach to, say, India or Russia. Is there some kind of outreach going on regarding India and Russia?
MS. PERINO: Well, I know that Secretary Rice, up at the United Nations, talked with all the countries in the region. I don't have a specific readout on the India and Russia discussions. I do know about the Chinese meeting with --
Q: So that hasn't risen to the presidential level yet?
MS. PERINO: It's possible that the President has been briefed on it. I don't know, but can we get back to you on it?
Q: I'm sorry, I mean outreach, is the President calling, picking up the phone?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Okay. And another one is, at the APEC summit, the President invited all the ASEAN countries to Texas, including Burma. Has that been rescinded?
MS. PERINO: No, we did not -- we did not say who would all be invited.
Q: You did.
Q: Actually, you did. And I have it --
MS. PERINO: Did we say --
Q: Oh, yes.
MS. PERINO: I thought that we said that we would be -- I thought we were non-committal.
Q: No. Believe me, at the time, it was surprising enough that so much --
MS. PERINO: Now I'm remembering. You're refreshing my memory. I don't know. And that meeting is way in the future.
Q: Dana, since you brought up the protest by the little kids out in front and the little red wagons, do you think, by any chance, that this would be considered political theater, as the White House has called some things in the past "political theater," this time to have the nation's littlest children, littlest people outside, trying to send the President a message with something that they use to go to the playground?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. The Democratic leadership is going to have to square that with themselves. I don't know. Maybe they got a pass out of school today to be able to come down. But I do believe that those children would have -- would agree with the President that the neediest children should be taken care of first. It's unfortunate if there's any misinformation being given to children. The President wants to expand this program and he wants to make sure that the states have what they need to provide for those children who don't qualify for Medicaid but still would qualify under the S-CHIP program.
Q: Do you think that the message is getting out more so that this quibble over children versus the fact of what he's trying to do? I mean, it seems like it's over money; the bottom-line, it's more so about money.
MS. PERINO: The President's position is one that he stands on -- on his -- on principle. And it isn't always the easiest thing to do, to stand on principle. And oftentimes Republicans find themselves in a position, standing on a principle that isn't popular in the newspapers and out in the public. But they can't worry about that.
Now, what the President wants to do is make sure that we are providing federal dollars to a program whose original intent was to take care of a segment of the population who right now, frankly, is not being well-served by this program. When 750,000 children, who could be covered under this program, aren't being taken care of, there's a problem there, and that's the one of the problems -- that's the one that the President is trying to fix.
Q: Following on that, why is the President facing so much opposition on this? Why were there overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate who disagree with him on this veto, and why does public opinion think that expansion of this program should --
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know about public opinion. And the President doesn't make decisions about --
Q: -- on public opinion.
MS. PERINO: The President doesn't make decisions based on those public opinion polls. And I think that it's incumbent upon us, and I appreciate this forum, to be able to explain what the President's position -- is to reach out to the children who need it most. And there are many who aren't being taken care of right now. And that's where he is focused on.
Q: Why couldn't he -- why can't he convince more of even his own party of that --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think if you look at the House vote, it was very strong on the Republican side of things. And what we want to do is have the bill come over here. We don't have it yet; as soon as we do, we'll let you know when the President vetoes it. And then the President wants to sit down, and we are hopeful that the members of Congress want to sit down, to try to find common ground and reach an agreement.
Q: Does that mean a compromise on the President's part, in terms of dollar amounts?
MS. PERINO: We'll let you know. We'll let you know. I won't negotiate from here.
Q: I just need clarification -- a couple of things that you've said. One of them is the 2.1 million CBO estimated number that are switching over, or that you predict will switch over. If that's the case, why does the health care industry support this bill, if they're going to end up losing coverage by some of their --
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask them why they support the bill. I don't know.
Q: All right. And secondly, is this CBO estimate, is this those that would go to CHIP and Medicaid, or just CHIP?
MS. PERINO: I think it's CHIP, but we'll double-check it for you and let you know.
Q: And may I ask one question on global warming?
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on S-CHIP? Okay, global warming it is. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q: Sure you want to take this? Okay.
MS. PERINO: I really want to be on that show. Go ahead, Paula.
Q: Okay. I know the White House is making it clear that they feel technology is the answer for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that Kyoto is an unreasonable, unrealistic goal. However, there are notable scientists, including NASA scientist Jim Hansen, who have said that you can meet this goal not by, you know, closing down coal-fired plants, as you said last week, but by putting a moratorium on new coal-fired plants until you have the technology, in about 10 years, to capture and store this stuff, combined with some kind of C02 cap --
MS. PERINO: Are you the spokesperson? (Laughter.)
Q: No, it's a question.
MS. PERINO: Look, there's a lot of different ways that you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have a variety of different programs, some of which were borne out of the research that Dr. Jim Hansen performed at NASA, including the methane to markets program. There's a lot of different ways that you can get there, including a 35 billion gallon replacement of traditional gasoline with alternative fuels. That's part of the new technology push. Clean coal is critically important, as are many other pieces like lithium ion batteries.
So we're working towards lots of different ways to get to the solution, and we brought together the major emitting economies so that we could all work together on a post-Kyoto framework.
Q: Do you have a position on carbon tax? I understand that --
MS. PERINO: Carbon taxes?
Q: Yes. Just, you know, sector by sector taxing carbon emissions from plants --
MS. PERINO: It's something that is in the mix and it is talked about, but it's nothing we think that we need to do at the moment. We think clean coal is a way to go.
Q: The President then obviously every time he speaks rails on Congress for not getting the spending bills to the White House, getting through Congress. Democrats are now out asking, is there a different standard being applied, in that Republican Congress did not pass very many bills on time or the President's budget on time.
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- look, certainly the Republicans were further along than where the Democrats are today and the continuing resolution is the President thinks not the best way to fund the government. He'd like to see those appropriations bills get done. And I understand that right now there's -- I think that the Senate will move to DOD appropriations today and then CJS appropriations after that. And so they're slowly but surely maybe going to make their way here. But there's not a lot of time left before the end of the year.
Q: And then off-the-wall question. The President today said -- (laughter) -- he called Admiral Mullen -- I'm characterizing it before I start. (Laughter.) Admiral Mullen, he called him humble, well-grounded, filled with common sense -- not exactly what one thinks about when they think of Hollywood values. Can we assume that this means the President does not support Fred Thompson?
MS. PERINO: No. (Laughter.) I don't know how you're drawing that connection.
Les, go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. State Senator Randy Brogdon of Oklahoma told a public meeting in Tulsa that the mafia -- "The NAFTA super-highway stopped" -- (laughter) -- "The NAFTA super-highway stops here at the border with Oklahoma." And my question: What will the federal government do to overcome the pockets of resistance, such as this to NAFTA transportation project?
MS. PERINO: I don't even know where to begin. (Laughter.) Obviously the President is a supporter of NAFTA. Can we do your second question quickly?
MS. PERINO: Thanks.
Q: In The Washington Times, House members Chabot, Berkley, and Rohrabacher write about Beijing's 2005 anti-secession law which codifies Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China, which these members of Congress say, "might legitimize Beijing's use of force against Taiwan." And my question: Since they also wrote of what they term the longstanding commitment to assist Taiwan's defense, does the White House believe theirs is an accurate statement of our obligation?
MS. PERINO: The President's position on Taiwan and the one China policy is well-known.
Q: Dana, I was just wondering, was the President informed about Putin's announcement at all, and do you know if he had any sort of reaction at all?
MS. PERINO: Roger, I don't know. I know that I checked in with the National Security Council beforehand to know that we were aware of the reports, but I don't know if the President had, but I'll check for you.
Q: Dana, why is it that there are so many children that haven't been included in the S-CHIP program? It's an administration-run program --
MS. PERINO: Well, no, actually it's run by the states and it's federally matched by the federal government.
MS. PERINO: But you might ask the states why they haven't been able to do that.
Q: Well, should the administration have requested more money sooner to provide the states -- I mean, that's the solution now is --
MS. PERINO: One of the things that we did is we provided the states with flexibility early on and unfortunately the flexibility meant mission creep and allowed some children who weren't supposed to be on the program and adults to be added to the program. We want to get the program back to its original intent.
Q: How did those 750,000 children slip through the cracks, that you know that number -- is supposed to be fact -- that are not on?
MS. PERINO: Well, again this is a program that is administered by the states and they need to reach out to those families and make sure that they know that the service is available, the program is available to them, and make sure that they know that they can take advantage of it and get their children enrolled.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276698