George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

January 25, 2008

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:08 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Hello. A little bit of a longer opening, since we're doing a combo gaggle and briefing since the President is traveling today, so bear with me. And in this opening I will give you the preview that I promised yesterday about the State of the Union.

First of all, he taped the radio address. The President discusses the need to pass legislation to strengthen our ability to monitor terrorist communications, which is set to expire February 1st. And he also discusses a bipartisan agreement on an economic growth package and calls for swift passage to deliver tax relief to hardworking Americans.

At 8:00 a.m. his normal briefings. At 10:50 a.m. he will leave on Marine One and head out to West Virginia, where he will make remarks to the 2008 Congress of Tomorrow luncheon. He will come back at 3:20 p.m. and will have, I think, a read-through session of the State of the Union speech this afternoon.

A couple of announcements regarding travel. Next week the President will go to Baltimore, Maryland, where he will visit the Jericho Program. And following the visit the President will make a statement on faith-based and community initiatives.

Q: What day is that?

MS. PERINO: Tuesday. On Wednesday the President departs for the West Coast, where he will make stops in California, Nevada, Colorado and then come back -- on his way back to D.C. he will stop in Missouri. On the trip the President will promote his trade and economy agenda and make some Republican Party stops. He returns to Washington on Friday, so more details on that to come.

A statement about the bombing in Beirut this morning. We strongly condemn the terrorist bombing in Beirut today that killed a police captain and many other Lebanese. This bombing is an attack on* [by] those who seek to undermine Lebanon's institutions and democratic processes and to delay further the selection of a new Lebanese President. President Bush will continue to stand with the Lebanese people as they strive for security and freedom.

For the State of the Union: the President is heading into the final stretch of preparation for his eighth and final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and to his fellow citizens. The State of the Union is a wonderful American tradition; it shapes the public policy debate for the coming year and the President is looking forward to delivering it on Monday night.

The speech is focused on the future; it is not a review of the first seven years of his time as President. It will reflect the President's mind set that he is going to sprint to the finish, as you have all heard him say before. His address will advocate his philosophy of trusting Americans, empowering them to make good and wise decisions, especially when it comes to keeping more of their hard-earned money, rather than sending it to Washington.

It will identify potential areas of agreement with a Democratic Congress. And these areas of common ground include new policy proposals with realistic chances of enactment this year.

The speech also highlights unfinished business that should be priorities for Democrats in Congress eager to demonstrate to voters back home that they are able to get things done, such as the economic growth package and making sure our intelligence professionals have the tools they need to do the job to protect us. These two issues are currently on the front burner waiting for congressional action.

The President will mention policies that can be implemented through executive or administrative action without congressional involvement. He will highlight recent successes in Iraq and the troops that are returning home without replacement as a result of that success.

He will call on Congress to make sure that our troops have what they need, when they need it, for the mission they've been asked to do. He will also express his commitment to continuing to improve the quality of life for our military families, and reiterate the call for Congress to implement the proposals put forward by the Dole-Shalala Commission on Wounded Warriors.

On the foreign policy front, he will discuss how an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis would help foster peace in the Middle East, and that peace is now a real possibility. And he'll say that America must continue to support those around the world who oppose terrorism and promote freedom; doing so will make America safer.

Building a more hopeful world also entails leading the fight against global hunger and fighting AIDS, which must remain a priority for our country. Yesterday he said he's -- he said that he's put all of his soul and all of his might into being President, and that this year will be no exception.

I have one final comment outside of the State of the Union. And I actually -- I noted it is not his eighth State of the Union; it is his seventh State of the Union in his eighth year, -- I saw that you were questioning that, and you are right.

In last night's GOP debate in Florida, one of the moderators incorrectly stated that a Bush administration official has reservations about the use of faith of one of the candidates. To be clear, the comment was from a former official, not a current one. And as you've all heard countless times from the President, we are staying studiously out of the 2008 commentary game. You've also heard the President say that he believes his faith is an important part of who he is and helps him keep perspective while confronting the challenges of the office. We live in a wonderful world where -- in a nation, actually, where people can express their religion freely. And voters in this country will make their decisions about candidates they want to vote for based on the principles that they have, and as you've heard the President say, those principles are often formed by a person's faith.

Q: Who was the former official?

MS. PERINO: It was somebody who doesn't work here anymore. (Laughter.)

Q: Are his initials M.G.?


Q: Oh, all right.

Q: In talking about Iraq, will he look at the surge and perhaps look ahead to when the war -- when the United States might be able to reduce its forces and get out of Iraq?

MS. PERINO: The President will reiterate what he said before, which is that he believes that the best way for a Commander-in-Chief to conduct a war is to listen to his commanders on the ground. And he will reiterate that that's what he will do when it comes to Iraq.

Q: Based on what he sees, is he optimistic about the war coming to a close?

MS. PERINO: We're going to hear a report from General Petraeus to the Congress; we'll hear a report from General Petraeus this spring. And he will listen to what General Petraeus thinks is the best thing that we should so, and then make decisions from there. Clearly we've had some success in Iraq lately. There's a lot more work to do. It's a dangerous place. We still have a serious al Qaeda problem, as we saw yesterday with the bombings in Mosul -- I'm sorry, the day before yesterday in Mosul. But you also saw Prime Minister Maliki today coming out and saying that they are going to take aggressive and decisive action against al Qaeda in that area.

So the President will talk about Iraq. It's not a huge chunk of the speech, but he'll spend a significant amount of time talking about it. After all, we do have hundreds of thousands of troops there.

Q: Could we have a print out of your statement on the run-up, so everyone can have it? It's so explicit this time.

MS. PERINO: Sure. There will be a transcript, and then we can get you one.

Q: So will General Petraeus be in the House gallery on Monday night?

MS. PERINO: It's always a secret who is going to be in the House gallery, but I haven't seen him on any lists.

Q: Dana, the Senate has shown some inclination to make some changes in the stimulus package. Harry Reid has said that the $150 billion isn't a magic number, and talked about adding a number of programs onto there, things that have been resisted in the House version. Are you drawing a red line in terms of adding things onto that stimulus plan? Is there flexibility there in the negotiation?

MS. PERINO: Well, Secretary Paulson is leading those negotiations. Let me put it this way: We believe this is a very good, bipartisan compromise, and it would be unfortunate if the Senate did anything to slow it down or blow it up. The package is effective, it's balanced; the President says it's the right size and it will give the economy the boost that it needs, but only if it arrives on time. And the longer it takes to get the money out to people, then the less impact it will have.

Right now there is a need for speed when it comes to this economic growth package. And Americans are expecting action now. Imagine all across America yesterday evening, and then this morning, if they're looking at their newspapers or watching their newscasts, they see that the President -- the administration and House -- and the House, in a bipartisan way, were able to come together and have an agreement.

We should not do anything that takes us back into the partisan wrangling. It would be interesting to find out what it is about an agreement that Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel like that they can't support from the Senate Democrat side. Now there might be things that they want to do in addition to that, but that could -- there's a lot of legislating that could be done over the next year.

And so if this agreement gets derailed in the Senate, the workers and the businesspeople who are expecting this relief are not going to get it in time, or possibly not in time for it to have the effect that we would like it to have. As the President said yesterday, the time is now. We need swift action. And on specific questions regarding ones that you mentioned -- unemployment insurance or food stamps -- Secretary Paulson will be talking with the Senate.

But remember, tax bills always start in the House. Now we've got an agreement with the House, and the President thinks that the Senate would be wise to go ahead and take that and run with it.


Q: Dana, you've stated that the President has called the package the right size. Does that mean that the President sees $150 billion as the upper limits of what he would accept, or is there any -- is there some give there in future negotiations?

MS. PERINO: Well, again, when asked this question before I've actually, on the Hill, not seen other -- higher numbers floated. But Secretary Paulson will have those negotiations and see. I'm certainly not closing any doors, but the President thinks that $150 billion is the right amount.

Q: What about the phase-out on the upper-income level for rebates, is he satisfied with that?

MS. PERINO: The President was satisfied that in a negotiation you give some and you take some, and that we have a good agreement.

Q: And that's what he gave on?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not going to detail out Secretary Paulson's negotiations. But there was a compromise, so that's what we have.

Did you have one, Bill?

Q: Knoller wants a rebate. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: He should turn in his expense accounts -- that way he could get his --

Q: Let's not make this personal. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: All of us would like those (inaudible). Go ahead.

Q: Dana, some economists have expressed concern that the package won't be effective. Is the White House convinced that this package, as it stands, will in fact give the economy a boost?

MS. PERINO: I think it is -- this President would not have taken the advice of his economic advisors to, first of all, agree to do an economic growth package, and secondly, to agree to what Secretary Paulson was able to work out if he didn't think it was going to be effective.

This is for -- the President called it an insurance policy. That's how he sees it this morning. There's no change over the past eight hours. And we want to see quick congressional action.


Q: Dana, can I take it back to the State of the Union for just a couple of quick ones?


Q: I don't hear in what you described -- Social Security overhaul, I don't hear immigration reform, I don't hear tax reform that the President has spoken in the past about as big ideas. Is that just politically not possible?

MS. PERINO: Well, let's step back. No one should take my short preview here about the State of the Union to be all-inclusive of everything that is in the speech. As I mentioned yesterday, Social Security and immigration are two huge issues confronting the American people. The President showed very bold leadership in putting out very detailed policies. This Congress has either been unable or unwilling to get anything done.

It is unrealistic to expect that this Congress is going to take on such big problems this year. They haven't been willing to do it in the past several years; there's no reason to think that they would do it this year. Remember, 2007 was labeled the "do-nothing Congress." Hopefully in 2008, there are some things that we can get done. But I don't think that anyone believes that this Congress would actually take on immigration or Social Security. That's not to say that those two issues aren't mentioned in the speech.

Q: You also spoke of the speech reviewing -- is the President looking to his legacy in this speech?

MS. PERINO: Not really. He was -- I talked to him a little bit about that yesterday. When you work at the White House, as you all know, you get here and there is just so much to do, and there's not a lot of time for contemplation or reflection. And so he said that he doesn't know what it's going to be like when he gets up to the podium -- will he be washed over with feeling about this being the last State of the Union? He doesn't think that will happen. He does feel that he's given his all the first seven years, and that in this eighth year, that 12 months is a long time to be able to get a lot of things done. The great thing about the State of the Union is that it can really set the stage and the agenda for the next 12 months, and that's what he plans to do on Monday.


Q: Normally in the State of the Union the President will list all the things that he can do, or believes he can do with Congress. Yet you've said part of what this State of the Union is about is executive actions, which normally means these are things we're doing because we can't get Congress to cooperate. Why is that message in there?

MS. PERINO: Well, Paula, I haven't read every State of the Union given since our nation -- since those speeches started, but, look, there are many things that we are doing. We've talked about how -- and on the housing front, the President asked for Congress to work on housing way back -- April 2006 is when he first asked Congress to modernize the Federal Housing Administration. They hadn't done that. And on August 31st of this year he asked for several measures for Congress to take up on housing. They didn't do that.

So on a parallel track while waiting for Congress to get off their duffs and do something about it, the President decided to ask his advisors, what can we do here from the executive branch? The executive branch has a role to play in government, and in the State of the Union it is perfectly appropriate for the President to bring up issues that he plans to try to get done on behalf of the American people. Some of those things we're doing in conjunction with Congress. Some of them complement to Congress in the things that we can do from an administrative perspective, including housing. So that's why it's in the speech.

Q: And also, the size of the stimulus package -- 1 percent GDP is what you thought you could afford to do, in terms of cost.

MS. PERINO: No, 1 percent of GDP was what the President thought would be robust enough in order to have an impact.

Q: Okay, so then you believe that it will increase GDP by 1 percent?

MS. PERINO: I don't think anyone has drawn those exact parallels, Paula. Look, we can talk more in detail about the growth package a little bit later.

David. Go ahead, David.

Q: I'm asking because economists are predicting three-quarters percent --

MS. PERINO: I don't know what economists are predicting. And as I said, I don't make those predictions. We foresee economic growth in the future. We want the economic stimulus package as an insurance policy to make sure that in the short term we don't have any downturn in the economy.


Q: On State of the Union, could you give us a little more on the new policy proposals, maybe just the broad subject areas we're talking about there?

MS. PERINO: Let us have a little bit of news. There's still three-and-a-half days left before the speech.

Q: Oh, you'll have a lot of news, but maybe you could just give us the --

MS. PERINO: I've given -- the President, yesterday in his interview with USA Today, and today I've given a lot more than we have in the past.

Q: Dana, speaking of that interview, the President said that he was proposing doubling for global AIDS. Is that something different than what he proposed in May?

MS. PERINO: No. He will be asking Congress to make good on that proposal that he had right before the G8.


Q: Making the tax cuts permanent, is that still part of his --

MS. PERINO: Absolutely. The President will be talking about tax cuts, that his cuts that were put in place in 2003 need to be made permanent, absolutely.

Q: Dana, there seem to be some Americans, when looking at the stimulus package, say how does a government already in debt find this money? And they seem to fear that this is just something else their children will have to pay back with interest at some point. How does this money happen?

MS. PERINO: Well, remember, over the past several years, after we had the tax cuts of 2003, the past couple of years we've had record revenues coming into the Treasury because the economy was doing very well. So what the President wants to do is make sure the economy remains strong, so that we can continue to get this country on a path to balance by 2012. We'll have the budget out on February 4th. The President believes it's important that we continue to have a growing economy. There was a risk of a downturn. The President said, along with the members of Congress, let's move forward and try to get a stimulus package, so that we can avert that. And we do see a short-term increase in the deficit, but we think that will be overcome by the economic growth that we'll benefit from.

Q: Does sending money back to taxpayers serve as an acknowledgment that they were over-taxed in the first place?

MS. PERINO: I think that this President would say that Americans are over-taxed, absolutely.


Q: Dana, regarding the bombing in Lebanon, one of the victims was investigating crimes that were largely blamed on Syria. Do you suspect Syria to be involved in this bombing, too?

MS. PERINO: I don't have that for sure. I couldn't put it past them, but I can't say that for sure.

Q: Thank you.

END 10:19 A.M. EST

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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