Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with a very brief -- I'll not go into great details because we've got a written readout of the President's very successful bilateral meeting with President Ernesto Perez Balladeres, which has just concluded. But the two had a very productive official working visit, just concluded a short while ago. The two leaders emphasized the unique historic relationship that exists between the United States and Panama; praised the close bilateral cooperation that exists between the two countries; reviews a number of issues from economic issues to security issues, to regional issues that are on the bilateral agenda.
Both President's reaffirmed their firm commitment to the spirit of the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977, and complete implementation of the treaties. And they discussed, as I believe President Perez Balladeres has made clear, discussed the idea of informal consultations on the subject of continued U.S. presence in Panama beyond 1999, the future of the treaties themselves, both countries agree to it.
Q: What did you say, the last part? I missed it.
MR. MCCURRY: That they agreed in their meeting that they would have informal consultations to pursue the question of whether or not the United States would maintain a military presence in Panama beyond the year 1999. That would be -- that is allowed for in the treaties should both countries see that it is in their interest to allow for that type of presence. And certainly the United States views it as in both the interest of the United States and Panama to have that type of presence, although that is undefined and will be the subject of the information consultations that will now commence.
Q: Was there any discussion of further slowdown or possible halting of the withdrawal of our troops?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe they reviewed the implementation of the terms of the treaty. And both sides pronounced satisfaction at the progress that's being made in implementing the treaties.
Q: Can you explain why it in the U.S. interest to keep troops in Panama beyond --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have two significant interests. First is the effort to combat narco trafficking in which it might significantly in the interest of the United States to see if we could have some presence that are associated with that very important international effort. And secondly, increasingly the United States is involved in humanitarian efforts, humanitarian relief operations, especially throughout this hemisphere. And that obviously would be assistance in that respect.
MR. MCCURRY: Presence in staging points for additional deployments.
Q: Did the President raise the idea of these consultations?
MR. MCCURRY: This has been as subject that's been pursued diplomatically between the two governments in preparation for today's meeting. And it was a subject that both presidents expected to be on the agenda.
Q: Will the size of the American contingent in Panama be as large or reduced?
MR. MCCURRY: It's my understanding they did not review that question. That would be precisely the type of issue that would be addressed in the informal consultations that would begin now.
Q: Mike, those of us who don't understand the State Department chatter, what does informal mean when we're talking about stationing U.S. troops in another country?
MR. MCCURRY: The informal consultations is the way two governments would proceed in the spirit of the good bilateral relationship that exists between Panama and the United States to examine an issue that might then lead to a formal negotiation or some formal instrument that would codify the work of informal consultations.
Q: What? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You want more of the State Department stuff? Take it away Nick Burns.
Q: -- codify the new treaties?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is exactly the kind of question that you would resolve through these diplomatic conversations.
Q: We can assume he then also expressed interest in keeping them there, and that's why they're going to have these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they agreed that they would have informal consultations.
Q: -- consultations.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the President have any plans to meet with the Republican congressional leaders in the near future?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will first want to caucus with the Democratic leadership on the Hill. I believe that could happen as early as tomorrow. But he will at an early opportunity seek some opportunity to meet with the bipartisan leadership, and I've heard some very tentative plans that they might aim for doing that type of meeting sometime next week.
Q: Would he go up there?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard arrangements.
Q: When will you know for sure about the meeting tomorrow and be able to give us --
MR. MCCURRY: We can try to pin that down later today and put it on the tape or on the schedule for tomorrow.
Q: Would that be the House and Senate in the meeting tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Democratic leadership from both House and Senate are expected. That's my understanding.
Q: They would come here to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding, correct.
Q: Any idea of what kind of agenda they --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's back-to-school time in Congress, and there's a lot of work that lies ahead on the agenda. And the President addressed some of that meeting with you earlier today. And he certainly wants to review the ideas that Democratic members have as we face all the may issues that are going to be on the agenda of Congress in the coming week, starting with, as you know, welfare reform.
The President has written a letter to the leadership in the Senate encouraging them to pass the work first bill which will be the opening point for the debate in the Senate on welfare reform. And, clearly, the President -- we can't persist with the current welfare system, which is broken, which undermines essential family values here in the United States. The President believes that the work first approach has been designed by Senators Daschle, Breaux and Mikulski, represents a very good effort to put work at the centerpiece of our efforts to reform welfare, but do it in a way that acknowledges the obligations we have to children who are going to live in poverty and also the needs of states that administer public assistance programs.
We've got a very good idea of a way to proceed. And that's a good starting point for a bill at a time when it's quite clear that the Republicans seem to have trouble coming up with a unified position on where they would like to proceed.
Q: Did you release this letter or are you going to?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we will release the letter. It just went up a short time ago to the Hill, and we'd like to have the post person deliver it before we put it out.
Q: PBS and the other folks who are planning this national issues convention next January announced today they have the money and they're definitely going ahead with this. And they, of course, are very interested in having the President come and attend as well as other candidates. What is the White House stand on this? Do you expect him to go?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had very good conversations with some of those who are working on this issues forum for January. It won't surprise you when I tell you that the President's schedule for January has not been firmed up at this point. But we are giving very serious consideration to this forum. It looks like a very interesting approach to involving the American people in a dialogue that will be central to the decisions that America people make in 1996. So we'll look very carefully at it. There's been some good preliminary conversations with some of the people who are working to organize this.
Q: Going beyond the statement you issued last night on the nuclear test -- thank you for that -- have you had any direct contact with the French? And is the U.S. government trying to convince France now to lower the number of tests?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that, Connie. I know that this question of testing and testing simulation has been a subject that has been raised in discussions in the past, but I don't know the current status of any work we're doing either through military representatives at Defense or perhaps the State Department. You might want to check with them. I'm just not aware of any follow-up contact.
Q: Have you issued a full-court press to try to get the French to stop these tests --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've made our concerns about tests very clear. And as our statement reflected yesterday, the environment in which we can achieve a comprehensive test ban is much more favorable if nations refrain from testing. And we encouraged many nations, other nations to consider the importance of creating that type of climate which could lead to a successful promulgation of a test ban treaty next year.
Q: The President said again today that there need not be a train wreck. But to avoid a train wreck does he want to engage the Republicans in budget negotiations as quickly as possible, or is he content to let the process unfold over the next few weeks and push for short CRs?
MR. MCCURRY: There are several scenarios that might present themselves now as we look ahead to how Congress will rustle with its obligation to do its work. And the President feels that he came forward with a budget -- balanced budget proposal that represented a very good-faith effort to address the concerns of the American people, the priorities that have often been stated by Republican members of the Congress, and things that he feels are important as we define the priorities that must underlie the federal budget. He put that forward in good faith, hoping that that could generate some type of discussion with Congress that would lead to an orderly outcome of this budget conflict.
That has not happened to date, but the President certainly would not rule out the possibility it could happen some time in the future. At this point, we don't know. It's really going to be the disposition of the Congress to decide whether or not there is going to be a train wreck, a series of vetoes, a period of uncertainty for the American people about whether or not Washington is going to get its act together. But that now lies in the hands of the United States Congress -- the Republican leadership specifically, because they have to decide how they are going to proceed. Are they going to pass appropriations bills; are they going to wait; are they going to use the approach of the debt ceiling as a leverage point --all of these questions really, frankly, are in the hands of the Republican leadership.
Q: What about the scenarios that you were getting ready to outline, what are they?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back, Brit.
Q: Might we expect you to appoint, for instance, Panetta and Rivlin within the next week or two to start --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no plans to do that because there's no indication that that's the most likely scenario at this point. There could be passage of appropriations bills, some of them, perhaps many of them, unsatisfactory to the President, with vetoes and with a subsequent effort to sustain the President's veto. There could be an effort to walk right up to the fiscal year deadline and then extend current program activity in the form of continuing resolutions. Or there might be -- just might be -- the outside chance that the Republican leadership will see it's in the best interests of the American people to avoid this climate of crisis and to get down to the business of doing the nation's business in a timely and orderly manner.
That's the President's preference because the President thinks there is a good starting point for that discussion, and it's the 10-year balanced budget proposal he put before the nation earlier this year.
Q: Well, the President also said that he would not engage in a war of words with the Republicans over this budget. And my question is -- I've asked it before in different forms -- does this mean there will be a moratorium from this podium now of the words "extreme," and "cruel," and "mean-spirited," "lunacy"?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. The President's spokesperson gets to call them as he sees them. (Laughter.) No, look, there will be an effort on our part to try to address these issues in a way that brings Americans together. The difference on the other side is increasingly -- there approach to these issues is being defined by a presidential nomination contest, and that poses a real difficulty because there's two different choices there. One is you get together, you do the business of the country. The other is that you suspend belief and put it into the climate of a presidential campaign.
Q: The President indicated today -- at least I inferred from what he said -- that some of the rhetoric going back and forth, the heated rhetoric, is one of the barriers to a solution. So maybe I'm reading to much into this, but is he going to have you -- I didn't mean you, I meant the people who've come here, you've brought here -- is he going to try to get them to turn it down a little bit?
MR. MCCURRY: I would argue that we have turned it down considerably.
Q: Starting when?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we turned it down over the summer. Of course, we weren't doing a lot of briefing over the summer. (Laughter.) No, we have turned it down and we have on many occasions said to the leadership of the Congress, let's get on with the business of getting these decisions made now so that we're not doing it with a gun held to our heads, because that's not in the interest of Republicans, it's not in the interest of Democrats, it's not in the interest of the President, it's not in the interest of the leaders of Congress. I think there ought to be some common view that figuring out the answers to these very difficult questions sooner rather than later is a smarter way to do the nation's business.
Q: For the record then, how do you counter the Republican argument that they have a mandate from the last election and that what they're doing is what the American people want and you're simply blocking progress?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not seen anything that would indicate to us that there is a mandate for massive cuts in Medicare, for disrupting some of the programs essential to the protection of the American family, the American worker, the environment in which we live. And we have not seen a mandate that says in order to achieve these large cuts in programs that are essential to the elderly of this nation we should ship off a lot of money to the various wealthy -- the very wealthiest Americans -- in the form of tax cut. I mean, if that is the mandate that some in Congress are defining I think they need to go back and check a little more carefully and listen a little more carefully to what the American people have been saying.
Q: Would you say that this President is especially well qualified to recognize the lack of a mandate? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think he understands how difficult it is to use the results of an election to promulgate a program.
Q: Given that you've said it would not be an unrealistic prediction to have a budget showdown as far off as Christmas, is the White House planning to press for continuing extensions of budget as well as the debt ceiling so that you can negotiate without a climate of --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- as I indicated earlier, there are a number of scenarios that are possible. There are some that I think we consider more likely than others, and we're doing a variety of planning for any of the contingencies that might present themselves.
Q: The bill for appropriations for congressional spending has already passed the House. President Clinton said he was going to veto it if it arrived on his desk before the budget resolutions do.
MR. MCCURRY: This is the legislative appropriations bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it seems a little unseemly in the President's view for Congress to decide they're going to pay for the work of all those who work up on Capitol Hill before they've resolved some of these questions. You know, they'll take care of themselves and leave the American people hanging. And I think he finds that a little unseemly.
Q: So he's still going to veto? Is that what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: Hume, what is this editorial comment that you're offering here?
Okay, what else?
Q: So he's going to veto it?
Q: The inappropriate laughter?
Q: Are there any of the 13 bills that as they currently stand now that doesn't have a veto threat, or an implied veto threat?
MR. MCCURRY: There are, yes. There are some that are shaping up in a fashion that much more closely resembles proposals that the President put forward. I'm not going to go through and list them all because that's not a good -- if we are, in fact, going to go into a negotiation, that's probably not a wise tactic for a negotiation.
Q: Name two then.
Q: You say he going to sign the legislative --
MR. MCCURRY: Name two?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to name two. Go up on the Hill and you can talk to the congressional staff up there and they'll give you a good idea of where they are.
Q: How about one?
MR. MCCURRY: One bill? I could name three right off the top of my head that are getting close. But that's not the point. The point is, it might be advantageous to look at the entire budget resolution than to recast the entire priorities that this Congress put forward in their budget resolution. That might require undoing all 13 of the appropriations bills.
Q: Mike, what do you think of this letter a large number of Republicans in the House have signed not to extend the debt beyond the next deadline, whatever that is, unless the President commits to balancing the budget by the year 2002?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's view on that is clear from the balanced budget proposal that he's submitted. Policies driven by dates arbitrarily don't make a lot of sense. Policies driven by fundamental priorities that reflect important investments that we do choose to make as a country -- cuts in spending that we must make in order to balance the budget and tax relief for middle income Americans who need it and who want to invest in their education and the education of their children -- those are smart things to do. So work out the policies, structure a budget accordingly and then see how it adds up and what your deficit track is. That's what we did and we end up with a 10-year track. In fact, now, I think, through recalculations, it's technically a 9-year -- technically a 9-year track.
But that's more important than saying, do it by this year or date certain and cause all the arbitrary hardship that the Republican plan now puts upon the American people. In making this arbitrary pledge of seven years, they threaten to disrupt the lives of elderly Americans. They do unconscionable damage to a lot of the efforts that are necessary to protect the environment, to protect American workers, by dismembering programs that are critical to the health, safety and welfare of Americans.
There's not need to do that. There's a smart way to get to the goal of a balanced budget that protects the interests of the American people. The President has put that forward. He's open to the idea there might be ways that Congress would want to adjust some of the thinking in that bill, we know that. But there doesn't seem to be any willingness, in fact, if anything, indications to the reverse, that they are hard and fast over about pursuing something that they themselves call a revolution. You know, what we need is a little more common sense and a little less revolution.
Q: Along the same line, where the President proposed a balanced budget after hearing a variety of other ideas and alternatives, will the President also propose a tax reform initiative after hearing all these --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to look very closely at tax reform. We've looked at issues. I'm not aware that there's any change in the status of those types of measures, either from the view of the President or from the view of the Congress.
Q: But if the Republicans are planning to make this a presidential campaign issue next year, wouldn't it be logical for the President himself to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it might well be, but first and foremost it's important to have the right policy examination on issues related to tax relief. That's what the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chair of the National Economic Council and others have been doing, as you know. And the Secretary of the Treasury has recently addressed himself to that issue.
Q: Before the recess the Republican leaders asked the White House for a date at which the debt ceiling -- legislation to increase it had to be a drop-dead date. I think there is at least three letters in which they're requesting you to tell them when this date is. As of the August recess, you had not yet done that. Do you know if that has been done yet and whether or not you've made any sort of policy sort of assessment on what point that is?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if that has been done yet. I do know that the calculation of when that limit would expire, based on existing obligations, interest payments and so forth, would be within the province of the Treasury. So the Treasury Department may be able to help you out with that.
Q: No, I don't think, Michael, that Treasury calculation --
MR. MCCURRY: They're not saying --
Q: No. A Treasury calculation is considered unacceptable to Congress because the Treasury Secretaries previously had made such calculations that turned out to be not correct and so they put into the law some kind of language the President had to certify it, and so that's why I'm asking.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check then because that's more than I knew on the subject. I knew that we had been getting our guidance on the question from Treasury and they seemed to be the department that was making that calculation. But I'll find out more based on your question.
Q: Did you get a chance to look at the defense spending bill and specifically the antiballistic missile system, funds for that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we haven't looked at it. I know the Senate is considering -- it has considered this compromise measure which certainly is an improvement over funding proposals that have been put forward earlier. The administration remains committed to an effective theater missile defense R&D effort. We have called for funding accordingly. We believe that the compromise measure that the Senate has looked at is certainly an improvement over previous measures and we'll continue to examine what the requirements of the Senate bill would be.
Q: Mike, what's up with the REGO event tomorrow? And does the President have new savings to go towards deficit reduction tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have identified within the President's 10-year budget proposal, budget savings that would result from the reinventing government initiative that the President has been working on. We have never spelled out some of the specifics of how we would get to those numbers that we've outlined. There's been a lot of very good work done by the Vice President's reinventing government task force. And we're going to be able to share some of that with you tomorrow in a report that I will commend to you it's excellent. It's written in English. It's actually sort of fun to read. And how often can you say that about an official document.
Q: The President said that about the last REGO --
Q: Any new developments today on the Bosnia front that you can report to us?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The information that we've got, I think, has been presented publicly most effectively by Admiral Leighton Smith from NATO command. He's gone through what some of the parameters of the existing operations are and told members of the press what can be told about the operational activity, which is obviously still underway. So we're constrained in what else we can say about it.
Q: Mike, just to make sure that I'm not confused on the REGO event tomorrow. You're saying that the President is only going to be describing specifics of how he plans to meet things that he's already laid out, or is he going to be describing additional --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we've put -- in putting the 10-year budget together, we've got numbers that we've used that we attribute to savings that come from reinventing government. But much of that was in the process of being developed. Some of them are estimates. We're now in a position to be a little more specific about how we get to those savings. And you'll some of that tomorrow.
Q: But you're not detailing any savings beyond what you've already put in your package.
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of, but how those numbers work out -- anybody know? Have you guys looked into that question at all? We're going to have, by the way, we'll have Dr. Kamarck and a few others around to brief after that event tomorrow and go through some of the numbers in more detail.
Q: Mike, has the President spoken to Mrs. Clinton while she's in China? And what is the reaction the White House is getting as to statements she has made?
MR. MCCURRY: The President did have a good conversation with the First Lady last night. They missed each other just as the President was getting ready to depart from California. And the President actually reported to the First Lady some of the reaction he got in California. He had a number of people who had, I guess, seen a broadcast, a live broadcast, of the First Lady's remarks who were very complimentary and especially appreciated what the First Lady said about sterilization and forced abortions. And several people, I guess, in some of the crowds the President encountered yesterday had talked to him about the speech. And he reported that to the First Lady and also said that she did a very fine job presenting the views of the United States on these important issues that are being addressed at the conference.
Q: Has the President had any reaction to the Ruby Ridge hearings today?
MR. MCCURRY: I -- not that I know of. I don't know that -- this is, of course, a Bush administration incident. And we have not been following it. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, what's the President's position on English as the official language and the bill in the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe Secretary Riley made some comments on behalf of the administration yesterday on that. In general, we are interested in getting kids prepared for the 21st century and prepared to be high-wage earners and good contributing citizens and good taxpayers as they look ahead to the 21st century. And that means they need educational skills, and they've got to get those skills as fast as they can. They've got to learn mathematics. They've got to learn computer skills. They've got to learn how to think clearly and write clearly and express themselves. And by and large, if they want to get ahead in this society, that's going to be done in English.
But in order to acquire those skills, particularly if you're coming from a unilingual family, it might be best to gain some of that type of training, that type of teaching in your native language -- specifically, in Spanish in most cases in this country. So we're interested in kids getting ahead and learning and learning about this country and learning about what makes this a great country and learning how to become productive members of this society. They're going to have to learn English if they want to do that. And that goes without saying, but I think that there's a -- what the President's interest is as he talked about over the last several days, is bringing Americans together on this question. What distresses him is that he sees a lot of people that seem to be trying to use these types of issues to divide Americans from one another.
Q: Excuse me, but, I mean, is he supporting any of these bills? Is he opposing them?
MR. MCCURRY: We're reforming education. We're doing Goals 2000. We're doing the kinds of things the President's talking about today. That's the way to improve education in America, not being caught in arbitrary debates that, frankly, have more to do with the agenda of the extreme right.
Q: Carl gave up on us a long time ago.
MR. MCCURRY: He left. He walked out.
Q: He gave up. He fled in desperation.
Q: Could you please give us some words as to why the President and Vice President feel they have to go to Baltimore tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Why do they have to go? Because they want to go to a ball game, and they want to take their kids, like thousands of other fans. And the President and the Vice President appreciate the fact that, unlike a lot of fans, they're in a position to be able to go as guests of the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. The President's looking forward to a good time with his daughter. The Vice President's taking his son. They're going to have a couple of their friends present. And they're going to a ball game and watch a very fine athlete in a truly historic moment do something that many followers of baseball thought impossible.
Q: It's a shame you can't take a larger portion of the press corps with you. (Laughter).
MR. MCCURRY: We're taking -- most members of the press corps here represented already have very fine sportswriters present at the game.
Q: This is a political story. (Laughter.)
Q: I just want to make sure I understand if Spanish is spoken in the family household, then they continue the Spanish to learn English. But it's not so much that you're advocating, as are some of the Republicans, that only English is taught?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I was not -- I'm not sure I follow the question.
Q: I'm just trying to figure out where you stand on this.
MR. MCCURRY: We're saying we want kids to get skills and to learn. And some kids only speak Spanish or other native languages, and there are programs that are developed to help them learn those languages -- or learn in those native languages until they can become fairly fluent in English. That makes some sense in some cases. And why would someone come along and penalize kids and prevent them from learning what they need to learn by putting on these kinds of arbitrary measures? It doesn't make a lot of sense.
Q: Mike, there have been some reports that the President is moving toward upgrading the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into a national monument. Is he considering that?
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, I have to check on that. I've heard some discussion of that, but I don't know where it stands.
Q: Is the President going to take part in any of the formal festivities there tonight at the ball game? Is he going to get in the act and go on the field?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he -- I think if, depending on Cal Ripkin's pre-game festivities, he might go down and say hello to him. But he intends to watch the game and then leave early.
Q: On the field, in the game, when they're doing the sound bite? When?
Q: He's not going to throw out the first pitch or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the first pitch is going to be thrown out by Ripkin's kids, which is entirely appropriate in our view. He's going there as a fan, and I don't think we intend to part of the festivities other than the celebrated truly momentous occasion.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:08 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270085