Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: A couple of quick announcements. First, the President is signing legislation today to abolish the wool and mohair subsidy. This will save $514 million between Fiscal '94 and Fiscal '98. It's a two-year phase-down, completely phases out the subsidies by December 31, 1995.
Q: No picture?
MS. MYERS: We might have to do a White House photo release and video release of this momentous occasion. But we said we were going to eliminate the wool and mohair societies, and it has been -- $514 million over four years, '94 to '98.
Q: What's taken so long to do it? (Laughter.)
Q: Has he been sheepish about this? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That was a line worthy of Knoller.
Okay, just to recap the NAFTA schedule for the rest of the week. As you know, the President spoke to the Chamber today. That was pulled down at approximately 1,000 sites around the country. Tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. in the East Room there will be an event where a group of distinguished Americans for NAFTA will talk about it. It will include former Secretaries of State, Nobel Prize-winning economists, other civic leaders including former President Carter.
On Wednesday, the President will probably do some NAFTArelated meetings in the morning, perhaps phone calls. He's done a number of phone calls today. Then the President and the First Lady will travel to the Pittsburgh area to talk about health care. This will be part of an ongoing campaign by both the President and the First Lady to promote health care. They will go to a library --we'll have more details on that.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Lexington, Kentucky, for a NAFTA event. It will be to a plant. We haven't settled on the specific one yet. But he'll tour one of the high-tech facilities there and talk with workers about the benefits of NAFTA.
On Friday, he will probably make more phone calls and perhaps more meetings, and there's also a bipartisan congressional meeting on Friday, which will cover a number of topics, including NAFTA.
Then the radio address on Saturday is the only thing on for the weekend as of this moment.
Q: Why does the First Lady believe that the insurance industry has got to be pushed back, and it's got to loosen its grip on health care? She was very tough in her comments today.
MS. MYERS: Certainly -- the insurance industry has spent $6 million already on an ad campaign to try to change the focus of the debate. I think the First Lady wants to make clear, as does the President, that particularly the President will spend a lot of time talking about universality of health care, that everybody has to be covered. That is a principle on which there can be no equivocation. The President is committed to it.
The insurance industry, some insurers are against that, because it will take away their right to abolish coverage if people get sick; to eliminate people from coverage if they have a preexisting condition; or to raise rates indiscriminately. Those practices will be eliminated under the President's plan. And not surprisingly, there's some opposition to it. So the President and the First Lady and the rest of the administration's going to campaign very hard to make the point, the President's plan will cover everybody; it will provide a package of benefits that can never be taken away.
Q: Is this partly driven by the fact that, at least the polling tells us, the insurance industry is very unpopular with the American people? I mean, do you need a bogeyman in order to build support for health care?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it goes to the fundamental issues of the campaign. The President is unwilling to compromise on the issue of universal coverage. There are many in the insurance industry who are against that. I think the point is that the President and the First Lady and others are going to take on anybody. If anybody wants to have a fight about whether the coverage should be universal, that's a fight we're going to have. It is a point on which the President is not willing to compromise.
Q: Is that a yes to the bogeyman? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: This is -- we want to have a very vigorous debate about these issues, and I think the President's going to make his position clear, and the First Lady will as well.
Q: Has Mrs. Clinton been in touch with the insurance industry all along in the preparation? Have they worked together at all on this?
MS. MYERS: Sure. There have been a number of representatives from a variety of industries including the insurance industry as this plan has been prepared over the past eight months.
Q: So they had some input into the plan?
MS. MYERS: Sure, of course. There were a number of public hearings. We've heard from them extensively. They simply disagree on a number of important issues. As you know, at the current -- the current circumstances, the insurance industry can drop somebody if they get sick. The insurance industry can say, or certain companies can say, that if you have a preexisting condition, you can't get health coverage. They can raise your rates indiscriminately in many places. Those are practices that will no longer be allowed. And those are things the President and the First Lady are very committed to.
Q: The President has campaigned for some Democrats, stayed out of some races. Does he expect to have any kind of an effect tomorrow, any kind of coattails?
MS. MYERS: I think we have -- the President has campaigned for a couple of candidates who believe that that would be helpful. And we hope that it has been. Governor Florio, for example, and Mayor Dinkins, two people who the President supports and has made no secret of that support. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
Q: Does he believe in general that presidents can have coattail effects in terms of getting out a vote as opposed to raising money?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that generally elections like this turn on local issues. But in these cases where the local -- the candidates, the Governor and the Mayor in this case, thought it would be helpful, the President went and tried to be helpful; thinks that they've done a good job and should be reelected. So, hopefully, it helps. But there's no way to know.
Q: Do you see any kind of referendum on the President in any of these elections on his performance?
MS. MYERS: No. But I do think in both cases there is a -- they share a common agenda. In New Jersey, Governor Florio's fought hard for things like welfare reform and gun control, changes in access to weapons. Those are things the President supports. He's also fought hard for fiscal responsibility -- the same thing is true in New York. Mayor Dinkins has fought for a number of things the President believes in. So to the extent that he can help them or at least try to help them be reelected, he is willing to do that. But there's no way to know.
Q: In Virginia, Allen has made something of an issue of Mary Sue Terry's ties to the Clinton administration. Do you think that's going to have any kind of effect with voters?
MS. MYERS: That remains to be seen. But again, where the local organizations thought it would be helpful, the President tried to help.
Q: The insurance industry says that at the time they ran their choice ad it was accurate. Why does the First Lady think it was a great lie?
MS. MYERS: It's never been accurate. Most companies -- or many companies now who offer health coverage to their employees only offer one option, if they offer coverage at all. Under the President's plan everybody would be covered through their employer and everybody would have, in the original plan, at least three options. That was certainly never guaranteed -- is not guaranteed under the existing system. So it's always been true that the President's plan expands choice for consumers.
Q: The President said on September 22nd that the vast majority of Americans would get as good or better benefits for -- without paying more. And now it seems to turn out that 40 percent will pay more. Most of those will get better benefits, but they will actually pay more. There seems to have been some slippage in that --
MS. MYERS: No, no, it's not that simple. Sixty percent of people will pay the same or less for the same or better benefits. Twenty-five percent of people will pay more in insurance premiums for better coverage. Now, it's impossible to gauge for all those people whether their out-of-pocket expenses will actually go up. If you pay a low premium and have a $5,000 deductible, your out-of-pocket insurance costs, if you use medical services at all, are higher than your premium. Under the President's plan, your deductibles will be limited and the cost of your premium will go down substantially.
And then there's that 15 percent who are mostly young, healthy people, who through community ratings will see their rates go up somewhat. But that's a modest increase for most of those people. And -- let me make one other point -- we're talking about the first year. We're talking about the point of beginning. As the plan is implemented and the cost controls take effect, people's overall insurance costs will continue to decline. And so more people will see better benefits. And that doesn't take into account the greatest benefit of all, which is you'll have a guaranteed package of benefits that can never be taken away.
Now, even if you're healthy and 25, if you become sick you could lose your insurance, you could develop a preexisting condition which would mean that you would never be able to get insurance again. All of those fears will be alleviated under the President's plan.
Q: Two foreign policy ones for today's newspapers. On China, why is the U.S. softening its policy now when at the same time it's been giving human rights warnings?
MS. MYERS: We're absolutely not softening our policy. Our policy has never been to isolate China. Our policy has always been to engage China; to talk about the issues of concern to us, particularly human rights, trade, and nonproliferation issues. This is part of an ongoing attempt to continue to work with China to promote our concerns; to maintain a dialogue that will help address our concerns. That's why we attached conditions to renewal of MFN; that's why we added sanctions when -- over the sale of M-11 technology. We will continue to press our agenda with the Chinese -- but through engagement as opposed to isolation. It's never been our policy to isolate them.
Q: And the reports about selling missiles to Taiwan, is that part of the same thing, an effort to balance relations between the two?
MS. MYERS: What reports of selling missiles to Taiwan?
Q: It came out last week -- that was a Taiwanese newspaper report, the U.S. is selling shoulder missiles to Taiwan.
MS. MYERS: I'm unfamiliar with that, and I certainly will get back to you on it. But our policy toward China has not changed.
Q: Do you have a figure, either number of people or percentage, who would be paying more in health care premiums if the present system were allowed to continue?
MS. MYERS: Paying more than they pay now? I think that there's no question that their health premiums will continue to go up, as they have every year for the past X number of years. Health costs --
Q: Is that 100 percent, everybody's premiums? In other words, have you folks provided some analysis to show how many more Americans would see their premiums go up if nothing is done as against how many more Americans will see their premiums go up under the President's plan?
MS. MYERS: I'll take the question and see if we have that specifically broken down. As you know, our estimates are that health spending will go from what it currently is to nearly 20 percent of the GDP by the year 2000. That is a substantial increase and somebody is going to have to be paying for it. It will come mostly from health consumers. But I'll see if we have it broken down by -- similar to the statistics about under the plan.
Q: This morning you said you were taking a question from us about whether the President keeps a diary or any kind of thing like that.
MS. MYERS: I don't know what prompted that. (Laughter.) The President said that he occasionally takes notes which are a part of the White House record, historic record, and he also periodically dictates into a tape recorder.
Q: Has he made any arrangements or any plans with any biographers the way that Bush did?
Q: Would he like one?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You guys can ask him that.
Q: Does he have a tape system in the Oval Office?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q: Can you take that?
MS. MYERS: Sure. I'm sure that there is -- I don't know if there's a system still in place. It's not in use if it is. But I'll see. I think it's been dismantled. (Laughter.) I think the lessons of previous presidents are fairly powerful in that regard.
Q: What does he do with these tapes? I mean, does he just put them in storage? I mean, what does he intend to do with these tapes?
MS. MYERS: I think they're largely for the historical record. They're his recollections of events.
Q: Will be they be transcribed? Whose -- is there somebody in the White House now who's in charge of transcribing these tapes, or are they just being stored?
MS. MYERS: I think they're just being stored at this point. And I think at some point he'll make a decision about what or how he wants to do with them. But at this point, I think it's something that's he's been doing for a few months just to record his impressions of events as they happen.
Q: Does he do it at any particular time of the day, like at the end of the day --
MS. MYERS: No, I think he generally does it at the end of the day, at night, probably rather late at night, if the past is prologue.
Q: Is it a small, hand-held tape recorder?
MS. MYERS: I didn't get the model and make. (Laughter.) I'm happy to --
Q: I'm just curious.
MS. MYERS: Yes -- (laughter) -- I'm sure it's an American brand.
Q: He doesn't have to reach all the way across the credenza and turn it on and off, does he?
MS. MYERS: I did not get the specific technology that is employed for this practice. But it is a tape recorder.
Q: But you are sure that there is no recording in the Oval Office of --
MS. MYERS: I'll double-check it. I mean, we've had this conversation kind of in jest over the course of the last many months. But I will -- I don't know how it was set up in the early '70s, for example.
Q: Ask David.
Q: Was the President aware of the CIA involvement, payments to some of the military leaders in Haiti?
MS. MYERS: As you know, we cannot --
MS. MYERS: CIA -- allegations about CIA payments to Haitian officials. It is an intelligence issue and, therefore, I cannot comment on it.
Q: confirmed by members of the committee.
MS. MYERS: Nonetheless, it is an intelligence issue, and I can't comment on it.
Q: Would the President think it would be appropriate to --
MS. MYERS: I just can't comment on intelligence matters.
Q: Again, with regard to the election, if Florio and Dinkins, who have been helped by the President lose -- should lose tomorrow -- or forget that -- how does the White House read the significance to the President of tomorrow's election? What is the political significance meaning of tomorrow's elections?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that they, again, are, as we've said all along through local elections, that they are largely about local issues. To the degree that the President shares an agenda, or at least a common goal on certain issues, he's been willing and happy to campaign, to talk about those things -- health care again, violence, fiscal responsibility, whatever. But I think local elections turn largely on local issues. And if the President can go down there and help by underscoring some of the things that they share, then he's been happy to do that.
Q: Let me follow on that, Dee Dee. In New Jersey, it's very possible, for example, the Florio election could turn on tax increases, which is hardly necessarily just a local issue. In fact, it's being looked at as sort of a national bellwether. And the President had sort of a similar experience when he first came in office here -- he increased taxes. Don't you at least have to face some choices -- if Florio loses tomorrow, people are going to, especially Republicans obviously, are going to point at the White House and say this is happening nationally, too; the President should watch out?
MS. MYERS: And then if Florio wins, what are you all going to say?
Q: Local issues. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: If you weren't such a good golfer.
Q: In all seriousness, I mean, Republicans obviously are going to use this against you if Florio loses.
MS. MYERS: They're going to use it if Florio loses no matter what the circumstances are. And, again, we went where the local organizations thought it would be helpful. We tried to underscore issues where the President and the Governor or the President and the Mayor see things in common. We'll see how things go. We certainly wish him the best of luck. Again, the President supports both strongly and hopes they both win.
Q: Bosnia before again, The Washington Times story on Bosnia -- is the President going to authorize and increase in air drops?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that. I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Dee Dee, when you mentioned earlier the 60-percent figure for those who would pay the same or less under the President's plan, you're talking only about --
MS. MYERS: Premiums. Yes, exactly, the universe we're talking about here is people who are presently privately insured.
Q: It's actually a 50-50 breakdown or close to that, is it not, if you include the working uninsured now who would actually have to pay a little more in the President's plan?
MS. MYERS: Well, the working uninsured don't have any insurance. So to go from having nothing to having something requires that you have to contribute to that. I'm not sure what the exact figure is. I think that somebody in one of the committees said last week it was 50 percent. But those people don't presently have insurance, so in order to add them, I think it's reasonable to assume -- expect that they would have to pay something. But that still doesn't get you to 100 percent of the universe because you have Medicare, Medicaid.
Q: What was the reaction in the White House today to the publication of the staff salaries?
MS. MYERS: I think we're going to post White House correspondent salaries and then you guys could do a comparable study.
Q: That would put us in a dilemma. (Laughter.)
Q: Will you disclose your sources when you do it?
MS. MYERS: Sure. No, I think there's always a great deal of interest in such stories, as you can imagine. Any organization where salaries are published -- I think it becomes a topic of conversation.
Q: Do you think the EEOC is going to look into the fact that, in general, women tend to make less than the men in the White House?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You'll have to ask the EEOC.
Q: Well, should they look into it?
MS. MYERS: I'll refrain from commenting on that.
Q: You say this great interest -- but why, since there's so much interest, why did you all refuse to put it out?
MS. MYERS: Well, we thought it was a privacy issue. We think that -- we gave ranges for senior staff. Everybody knew what their commissions were, whether they were an assistant or a deputy assistant, therefore, what their salary range was. We thought that was sufficient.
Q: Has the publication shown any discrepancies that people find a matter of concern?
Q: Have they asked for a raise?
MS. MYERS: Sure, I think we've done the best we can throughout this process to both recruit people from all over the country, to have as diverse a staff as we can, both in terms of previous experience, in terms of where they come from in the country, in terms of their backgrounds and their ethnic and gender backgrounds. And I think, generally, we've done a good job. We've also tried to make sure that people's salaries are commensurate with their responsibilities. Now, I don't think you can ever do that to the satisfaction of every single individual in every single instance; but I think largely we've been successful. And if there are places that we need to make adjustments, I think we'll look at where those adjustments ought to be made.
Q: So it's just sort of something -- you think this job is worth and you put a salary on, there's no criteria, there's no standards?
MS. MYERS: No, I think there's -- sure there's criteria. There's salary ranges for the top slots, which we published -- which we made public months ago. And I think then there is certainly history. We looked at how other White Houses did it, how they were organized, how people were paid, and tried to use both historical precedent and our own judgment and our own sense of what people's functions were because sometimes they're in jobs that don't necessarily reflect the full range of their responsibilities. So it's a very subjective process, as you know, and we tried to take as many factors as we could into consideration. And I think, generally, we feel that we've done a pretty good job. But it's never perfect and if there's ways we can make it better I think we'll look at that.
Q: In your claim to pay less than the Bush administration people got -- compared to what period of time during the Bush administration?
MS. MYERS: Well, there's a congressionally or legislatively-permitted ceiling which went up at the end of the Bush administration to I think $134,000. We came in and made just a judgment that the top salary range would be $125,000. And so -- and then the other salaries were adjusted downward based on that.
Q: The article seems to indicate that your claim to be paying less than the Bush people is somewhat of an exaggeration, since they only got it for like -- they only got raises for like two weeks.
MS. MYERS: But we were authorized at that level, so I think it is fair because we were authorized at that level. And had President Bush been reelected, his staff would be currently making a higher level of salary than what the Clinton White House is currently making.
I would also point out that we worked very hard to reduce the White House staff and to reduce the overall budget of the White House, which we did, although not by 25 percent. But the overall budget of the White House was reduced by some $10 million. And I think that's a significant accomplishment and it certainly wasn't easy. So I think there's a number of factors that have contributed to the salary structure. And, again, if there's some glaring discrepancies, we'll be looking at them.
Q: Are there? Are there any glaring discrepancies?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. We're only eight hours into this. I'm sure -- give us a few more hours.
Q: Is Ricki Seidman still on the payroll?
MS. MYERS: Ricki, yes, and Ricki -- she's not currently being paid. She's on administrative leave. I think she begins again next Monday as Director of Scheduling. And we'll be glad to have her back.
Q: Is Bruce Lindsay still doing personnel, or not anymore?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he is.
Q: Yes? Because The Post had his job marked as if it had changed.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think at some point it was always the expectation that as personnel became less Bruce would transition into another job; that's in the process.
Q: What job is that?
Q: It hasn't happened yet, though.
MS. MYERS: It hasn't officially happened yet, no.
Q: Who is that?
MS. MYERS: Bruce.
Q: What's the reaction around here to The New York Times Magazine piece on David Gergen yesterday?
MS. MYERS: I think there's an official reaction.
Q: What's the unofficial reaction?
MS. MYERS: It was an interesting piece. (Laughter.)
Q: In the Public Liaison Office, you have two numbertwo positions, one held by a male and the other by a female. And the male person gets $90,000 and the female gets $80,000, and yet the titles are exactly the same. Is that difference of responsibilities regardless of title?
MS. MYERS: I would imagine. I can certainly look -- I mean, I don't know if we'll be looking into that, but --
Q: Could you check into that?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q: Has Oakley arrived in Somalia?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he arrived, I believe, this morning or perhaps last night, but he is there now.
Q: What are his plans?
Q: What -- who?
MS. MYERS: Bob Oakley's back in Somalia as of today. His plans are to continue to work with people on the ground there to help the transition there; to work with the other African leaders in establishing a process for both establishing who is responsible for killing of the Pakistani peacekeepers last summer and other episodes; and for creating a process to move that country towards a more stable government.
Q: Is he no longer under investigation himself?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You'd have to check with the State Department. I don't know whether they've completed that, or not, or whether they would tell him if they had.
Q: On Somalia, can you respond to The Post editorial that says -- the analysis piece that says the President's aims of keeping open the lines of communication, the delivery of services and stuff, have all slipped since the special forces left and the redeployment and the deemphasis of the search for Aideed; and that some of the reasons the President said we couldn't simply with draw from Somalia immediately we're not fulfilling now; that the streets are not as safe as they were and that things are not getting done?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that we would take -- I think thinks are getting done. We're continuing to protect, as was laid out by the President, supply lines and lines of communication.
Q: Well, let me go over them one at a time. The article says that the supply lines are not as open and that the streets are not as safe. Do you deny that?
MS. MYERS: I think that we are doing the best we can to keep the supply lines open. Food is continuing to be delivered. That is something that we remain committed to. Communications lines continue to function. That is something that we are committed to. There's been a reduction in hostilities certainly directed toward U.S. forces there and U.N. forces there. That is certainly something that we're committed to. Again, Durant was released, and we feel we're making some progress on establishing a commission with the help of the African leaders. And Bob Oakley is back there, and we're continuing to work on it.
Q: So do you then deny the general thrust of the article, which was that Somalia is a more dangerous place and that delivery of aid is a less certain proposition?
MS. MYERS: Well, things are difficult in Somalia. And they will continue to be difficult. The circumstances have always been -- it's never been an easy situation. Nonetheless, as I said, supplies are continuing to be delivered. The communications lines continue to function. Those are things that we've said that our forces were there to maintain. And we expect to continue to maintain it.
Q: Can I then assume that you deny the thrust of the editorial?
MS. MYERS: I let my answer stand for itself.
Q: On health care, do you consider the insurance industry to be the main enemy that you've got in terms of getting this package through Congress?
MS. MYERS: The main enemy is anybody who is against universal coverage, a minimum -- or a comprehensive package of benefits that can never be taken away. Anybody -- that is the President's bottom line. Anybody who believes that that's not a necessity of the health care package is somebody that we're going to disagree with and fight.
Q: Dee Dee, in Mrs. Clinton's remarks this morning to the pediatricians, she said that what the doctor should try to do is stand up and take the decision-making process back, and they should be the ones to decide. And a lot of the critics, on the Hill at least, are saying that the problem with the President's plan is not -- it's not that the decisions will be going back to the doctors but to the government. And the White House itself has said that the government is broken, so why give it to the government to handle?
MS. MYERS: That's not true. The President's plan is based on a market-driven, private sector system, just as we have now. The health alliances -- what the government will do is set minimum standards and then get out of the way. It will be a largely marketdriven process. But because you will universal coverage under the President's plan, you won't have insurance companies deciding things like who gets covered, how long people can stay, what treatments may or may not be relevant. Those decisions --
Q: Who would make those decisions? The doctors?
MS. MYERS: Doctors.
Q: But a lot of people have felt that the reduction in medical inflation, the slow-down of the rate of increase recently has been precisely because insurance companies have been requiring doctors to justify excessive tests, to shorten hospital stays, and to intervene in the process.
MS. MYERS: But what we're going to look at is instead of -- we have a number of other mechanisms that we believe will control costs, which are covering everybody, promoting things like preventive care, introducing competition into the system to squeeze out some of the waste. A number of measures like that that will help bring down the cost, as opposed to letting insurance companies decide that four days is enough when, perhaps, it's not.
Q: Are you going to have an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights this week?
MS. MYERS: I think there's a good chance. A good chance.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:11 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269264