Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:18 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: A quick readout and then a preview of tomorrow. President Bush and Iraqi President Talabani met today for about an hour in the Oval Office. The two leaders had a very good meeting. They covered a range of subjects. They spoke about the importance for Iraq to move forward on national reconciliation, including following through on the Leaders Agreement that was signed on August 26th in Iraq.
The Iraqis are currently working to finalize three key pieces of legislation: the national oil revenue distribution; de-Baathification, which would allow people who were in the Saddam Hussein government to be allowed to work in the new government; and also provincial elections. The President said how important it is that the Iraqi parliament pass these laws, and President Talabani agreed. They also spoke about the importance of an enduring partnership between our two countries, as Iraq will be a bulwark against terrorism and extremism in the region.
Quick update on tomorrow. The President will travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He will discuss spending and budget issues. He is being hosted by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, and industry, employees of the company we're visiting -- the Jay Group -- and local business leaders. Expect about 450 people there.
As you know, Congress has completed the fiscal year without completing work on a single appropriations bill, and the President will urge Congress to get its work done and send the bills to him in regular order, on time, and without busting the budget and without raising taxes. And Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Jim* Pitts will attend.
Q: Will he take questions?
MS. PERINO: It's always a possibility.
Q: The White House has been pressing the Iraqis to pass these bills for nearly a year, if not more, and they -- and you keep on expressing impatience with it not being passed. Did he give any deadline today? Did he say by when they might get --
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously -- I understand, and we have been pressing them for a while, and they've made incremental steps. And most recently, they had the Leaders Agreement from August 26th, which has laid out the framework to get these laws done. And I believe the de-Baathification law is with the parliament now, and so hopefully we should see movement on that soon.
The President -- given that Iraq is a sovereign country, the President can push -- he's not given them a specific deadline, but President Talabani also recognized how important it was to get these done as soon as possible. And he is working, and he's doing a pretty good job of bringing those leaders together and keeping them working towards the same goal on what are very complicated issues.
Q: Well, did Talabani give any indication by -- say when he thought these laws would be passed?
MS. PERINO: He was hopeful. He said that he thought there was a good political environment right now for them to be able to move forward.
Q: But how is that any different from anything anybody's been hearing for months?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that you have to look at what has happened on the ground. And I think that that leaders meeting, from August 26th, then the parliament came back in September, and they're starting to move forward. I understand the frustration and the impatience. I think that they're moving in the right direction.
Q: But that one line, the President stressed the importance and Talabani agreed, it's a little "Groundhog Day", isn't it?
MS. PERINO: These are issues that are complicated. They're trying to figure out how to, for example on the oil law, how to figure out how to take oil revenue and distribute it to the provinces in a law. In practice, that's already happening, with the provinces receiving those types of funds. This is the type of money that they're getting from the central government. But it's not in law yet, and it needs to be.
Q: One more follow. Did they talk at all -- did President Talabani express any concern at all about the unintended consequence of the work with the Sunni -- the Sheikhs in the western provinces -- that that creates any sense of worry among the Kurds or among the Shiites that you're arming or strengthening the Sunnis? Was any of that expressed at all?
MS. PERINO: No. In fact, he was very positive about what had happened in al Anbar province, where the Sunni Sheikhs had decided to turn against al Qaeda, and that they had really shown the way to do bottom-up government, where they had the local communities excited about having a government that was responsive to them; that they were getting the money from the central government, and that they were paying back to the community in services, which is what any community wants. But he didn't talk about that.
Q: Did the administration ever hear any voices of concern about the bottom up, as you call it, sort of having these unintended consequences of strengthening Sunnis --
MS. PERINO: Certainly we read reports of it, and I think that there are some -- possibly some in the government. I don't know of any. I have not spoken to any that have those concerns. But I think that the results that we're seeing on the ground and the return on success that we're getting is allowing for our troops to start coming home, as the President laid out in September. And so as an issue -- I just don't know how big of an issue it is, because it did not come up today, and I haven't heard it otherwise.
Q: Did President Talabani bring up Blackwater, and what was discussed --
MS. PERINO: No, he did not.
Q: Was not brought up --
MS. PERINO: No.
John, did you have one?
Q: She asked my question.
MS. PERINO: Do you have another?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: Just to follow up on that, did Talabani bring up Blackwater? Did they discuss it --
MS. PERINO: No, it was not discussed. It did not come up. Obviously the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Iraqis are all working towards finding out what happened and they're working through the joint inquiry, obviously. And there's testimony on the Hill today. There's a lot of people looking into it, and I think that we all recognize that we're all working on it in good faith. So there was no discussion about it.
Q: What's the administration's position on subjecting contractors to U.S. federal law, prosecutable here in U.S. courts?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that's one of the things that's going to be -- that's one of the things that's discussed. And obviously these are legal issues that, as a non-lawyer, I'm not prepared to answer here, but something that's going to be discussed and I'm sure they had a discussion about on Capital Hill today. I didn't get to see the hearing.
Q: Dana, on Iraq, Congressman Murtha and some other Democrats are now talking about a war tax, they're talking about a new surcharge that would pay for the war in Iraq. They say it will raise about $150 billion a year. Is that dead on arrival at the White House, or does the President think maybe there should be some sacrifice to pay for the war?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've always known that Democrats seem to revert to type and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything. There's no need to increase taxes. The President has shown how if we prioritize and if we get the spending bills done in a clean way, we can actually have a surplus in our budget by 2012. We don't see any need to raise the taxes.
Q: But when you talk about priorities, tomorrow we're expecting the President is going to veto the S-CHIP bill over saving $30 billion, and meanwhile you're spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the war in Iraq --
MS. PERINO: But the President -- the President's first and foremost responsibility is making sure that Americans are safe, including children are safe. And, frankly, that's Congress's main responsibility, as well. And that's where the priorities are. I think that anyone -- I think it's apples and oranges to try to compare S-CHIP to funding for the troops.
Q: Well, they're all in the same federal budget, you do have to pick priorities on what you're spending money on, don't you?
MS. PERINO: What the President wants is for S-CHIP to revert back to what is the original intent of the law, which is that the neediest children should be taken care of first. That's not what the law that they sent to the President does -- well, we don't have it yet, we'll get it soon -- but that's not what that law does. I would also say that, in a time when Democrats are very concerned, supposedly, about people being worried about how they're going to pay for their mortgage, that raising taxes on them doesn't seem like the wisest fiscal policy. In a time when they think that they want to increase funding for children's health care, they're actually wanting to pay for it with a cigarette tax, which includes -- people who smoke are usually -- the majority are in the low-income bracket. And so they're raising taxes on something to pay for a middle-class entitlement. It's just completely irresponsible. Stop the madness on Capitol Hill.
Q: And yet 70 percent of the public in the latest poll yesterday, an ABC/Washington Post poll, supports that increase in the S-CHIP, but opposes the $190 billion in war funding spending.
MS. PERINO: Well, you know, I don't know how all those questions were asked in the poll, and you might want to take a look at that and be a little bit skeptical. But I think that people would agree that we -- well, and also what I said yesterday: Republicans often taken on really unpopular positions because it does sound great to say that you're going to spend a lot more on children's health care, but when you start digging deeper and realize that they've got a funding cliff, that basically in 2011, there's no money left for the S-CHIP program. They don't fund it sustainably. And on this idea of raising taxes on the American people right now to fund a war, well, does that sunset? Do they wait for al Qaeda to wave a white flag and then those taxes are going to go away? Does anyone seriously believe that the Democrats are going to end these new taxes that they're asking the American people to pay at a time when it's not necessary to pay them? I just think it's completely fiscally irresponsible, and the President won't go along with it.
Q: Dana, can I follow --
Q: Who's paying for this war?
Q: On that line, Representative Obey said today that Democrats will not pass a supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war until next year, in an effort to pressure the President to change course. All of this, they say, is designed that if you don't want the taxes, end the war. What's the response to all that?
MS. PERINO: Well, they're asking -- I don't know exactly what they're asking for; I can't think like they do. But what they're -- I think what they want is for all the troops to come home. And if it's an immediate end to the war that they want, they've already proven several times that they're not going to be able to get that law passed. So if you look also out on the Senate side, I think it was the Gregg-Murray resolutions from last year that said, no matter what your position is on the war, we're not going to risk not funding the troops. And I can't imagine that the Senate is going to go back on their word.
And many of these members of Congress went to Iraq over the recess, during August, and I would find it hard to believe that they would tell these troops that they're not going to provide them the funding.
Q: If I could follow on the spending bills, with the veto threat today of the DOD authorization, that is 11 of 12 veto threats on the spending bills -- of 11 of 12 spending bills, the President is now threatening to veto 11 of them.
MS. PERINO: Because the veto has worked to try to hold the line on policy decisions and on spending.
Q: Is that a metaphor of what the rest of the President's term is going to look like?
MS. PERINO: Well, we'd hope not. But I think that -- I can't remember, I can get the numbers for you on how many veto threats we had in the first term, which helped hold the line on what the President's numbers were. But in this regard the President has a role to play in legislative debates, as well. And one of the things the President can do is say, I'm not going to sign a bill that comes to me with extraneous spending. I'm not going to sign a bill that has policies in it that should not be a part of the United States policy.
And so I would hope that we wouldn't have to do veto threats, but I think that the Democrats have shown that these are the types of legislative angles that they're going to take, and that's why the President has to send some veto threats up.
Q: Dana, back to Obey for a minute. You have a chairman here who says he's not going to move on a bill, and he's the chairman, he doesn't have to. But it sounds like the White House is really not taking him very seriously.
MS. PERINO: I saw the report about half an hour before I came out here; I haven't seen his comments. I don't exactly know. The President will see some of the Republican bicameral leadership this afternoon. We'll take -- we'll listen to hear what they have to say about it and we'll go on from there.
Q: What time this afternoon?
MS. PERINO: I think 2:30 p.m.
Q: Any chance of them at the stakeout?
MS. PERINO: They usually don't. But maybe today they will. I'll find out.
Q: Dana, why would the administration want to protect low-income smokers, rich smokers or any other smokers from a tax that might dissuade a lot of people from a habit that --
MS. PERINO: I hope that they do stop smoking. The government is actively trying to get people to stop smoking, which is why it's probably not a really good idea to have it as a funding source for children's health care. It doesn't make any sense.
Q: Well, there have been a number of surveys over the years that have proven, as the tax goes up, incrementally, a number of people quit smoking.
MS. PERINO: Okay, then why would you want -- then I would just turn the question back on the Democrats. Then why would you have to have cigarette taxes be your funding source for children's health care? Do they think automatically that we're not going to need the S-CHIP program in four years? Because that's what their bill says. And that's what the President doesn't -- he just doesn't think it's good fiscal policy.
Q: Your point was that most smokers are poor people.
MS. PERINO: I'm saying that the majority of -- that the majority of smokers are low-income, and these are the people that we're trying to help with this bill. But what the Democrats have done is they stripped out the provision that would require us to, in the states, to go and find the lowest-income children first, to fund this program for them. And instead what they've done is they let that creep up so that you're asking for a tax increase, which disproportionately hurts low-income people, to pay for a middle-class entitlement. It makes no sense.
Q: Several states have said they're going to file suit, including New Jersey, which I guess wants to bring --
MS. PERINO: Proving my point.
Q: Yes. Well -- no. I didn't finish my question. Several of them have said that they are filing suit because, first of all, you all haven't put out a notice of proposed rule-making for something that HHS directed while Congress was out; and that they're arguing, for something that affects that many groups, that many people, should be put in the Federal Register. And secondly, one of the arguments you've all made, in terms of even if you want to do that, previously-insured families have to have their children uninsured for an entire year before they can even seek enrollment in CHIP.
And I just have to bring one other thing up. I'm sorry, but three-and-a-half times the FPL in New Jersey equals something like $53,000 a year. And I was told by this administration that if you lose your coverage, you can get COBRA to cover it, which is like $2,000 a year -- for a family of four, $24,000 a year. How is someone earning $54,000 for a family of four going to afford COBRA?
MS. PERINO: Okay. Well, let me see where I should begin. I refer you to CMS on the issue of the proposed rule-making. I'm not an expert in regulatory affairs.
On this issue of whether -- why they are suing, they are suing to try to bump up the federal poverty level. And I would submit to you that one of the things that we should do is start taking the root causes of health care coverage very seriously. And the New Jersey state legislature ought to take a good look at its own policies to figure out why health care in that state is so expensive.
But I really don't believe that people like my family in Wyoming should pay for middle class individuals to be able to have health insurance. They don't get tax breaks on their health insurance.
Q: With all due respect, you're requiring parents of children to remain uninsured for a year -- I mean, you have two options; they go to public health clinics, or they don't get sick or injured for a year, right?
MS. PERINO: On the issue of a gap, or whatever, I'm not a total expert in that. I know CMS people are. They've been dealing with this for years. It's been a part of the law since the very beginning. And so -- obviously we want children to be covered; we want them to be covered under private insurance, or if they are very needy, they go on Medicaid, or if they fall into that middle group they go on S-CHIP. That's what the President would like -- he'd like a 20 percent expansion for the next five years.
Q: Dana, back on Talabani and Bush. Since you're saying there is an investigation into Blackwater, was Talabani asked or urged not to bring it up, since there is a federal government investigation into this?
MS. PERINO: No, not that I'm aware of.
Q: Also, since you say the President is not looking at any deadlines with the Iraqi government, but he's urging them, what are the expectations out of this meeting, then? Many people say it's good for leaders to meet, but what are the expectations if there are no deadlines?
MS. PERINO: Terry asked me if the President had given them a deadline to pass the bill, and the answer to that was no. The President understands that the American people are impatient, but more importantly he also understands that the Iraqi people are also impatient with their government. And having two leaders get together to talk about how do you push and make sure that this is all going in the right direction, that they achieve what they worked to achieve on these three bills -- I think that is very worthwhile for the President to meet with President Talabani.
Q: -- many national security experts say, yes, it's worthwhile for leaders to meet. But if you're saying he's not giving a deadline, they can just keep on business as usual.
MS. PERINO: I think that they -- I believe that they understand the sense of urgency, as well. I really do.
Q: Dana, in the very same meeting, did issues such as partition of Iraq, the role of Iran in Iraq, and also the PKK fighters in the north of Iraq come up?
MS. PERINO: Let's see. No, the partition issue did not come up. They did talk a little bit about provincial elections, which is one of the three laws they're going to pass, and the issue of the PKK, no, did not come up.
Q: Dana, can I follow on S-CHIP? Our people are telling us that the Democrats are going to send up S-CHIP today at about 2:30 p.m. Is the President going to veto that today?
MS. PERINO: No. I think that we'll probably get to that tomorrow or so.
Q: But definitely not today?
MS. PERINO: Not today.
Q: What is your plan for that veto? Have you decided whether there's a ceremony?
MS. PERINO: I would not anticipate that there would be any ceremony. The President will probably veto it quietly. And then, as you know, he has a public event tomorrow -- as I mentioned, he's going to go to Lancaster and have an event where he talks about spending and the budget.
Q: Will we get a picture?
MS. PERINO: Why do you need a picture for radio? (Laughter.)
Q: Accountability, okay? Accountability. We want to make sure it's vetoed, okay?
Q: -- senior electronic medium.
MS. PERINO: Okay, Ann.
Q: Why wouldn't the issue of Blackwater come up? Prime Minister Maliki has been very critical of -- and Blackwater is now operating again in Iraq. Why would that not be something that he would discuss with President Talabani?
MS. PERINO: Well, I -- oh, I think that if the issue would have come up, I think the President would have talked to him about it. But I believe -- it probably goes back to the fact that the State Department, the Defense Department, the Iraqi government and the Congress are all looking into this issue, and we're doing so in good faith and people want to make sure that they understand what the situation was, and if there are any policy recommendations that we should implement going forward.
Q: And is President Bush satisfied the way Blackwater is now conducting itself? Because they are now operating --
MS. PERINO: I haven't asked him. I don't -- I don't think that he has any reason to believe that they're not at the moment conducting themselves appropriately.
Q: Dana, two quick ones. Will the President be satisfied, say, next spring, when we come back with the next report if we still have promises of good intentions in the Iraqi parliament, but no real net results there?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, the -- there's a lot of pressure on, and I think -- if you look at the issue on the national oil revenues, the fact that it in practice is happening is a very good thing, because you want that money on the ground, you want people engaged with their government, seeing that there are services helping them. If the laws don't pass, I think the President would remain frustrated. Although I can't -- you know, that's a hypothetical, I'm just -- I don't think I can get into it.
Q: And one other. On defense authorization, does he still plan to veto that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there would be a recommendation for a veto if there -- if it comes to us in the format that it was in yesterday. I haven't seen a final bill, and I'd need to check with Leg Affairs to make sure.
Q: Yes, thank you, Dana. Yesterday, on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Rush Limbaugh of "going way over the line with unpatriotic comments in one of his typical rants, indistinguishable from his usual drivel." Does the President agree with any of this?
MS. PERINO: I don't think he's heard of it.
Q: He didn't hear about it?
MS. PERINO: I don't think so. What's your next question?
Q: Months ago, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott declared, "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem." And my question: As the President's leading dealer with the media, what would you advise talk radio listener Lott to do?
MS. PERINO: I won't advise Senator Lott to do anything. We're big fans of talk radio.
Q: Thank you. Dana, President Musharraf is running for re-election. Does the President still support him?
MS. PERINO: What the President wants to see is free and fair elections in Pakistan.
END 12:39 P.M. EDT
* Congressman Joe Pitts
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/276701