Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, other faces, other places, other questions. Mr. Wolf.
Q: Any movement toward a meeting the President might have with the Republicans in the coming days?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't heard -- as I told you yesterday, tentatively thinking about doing that next week, but haven't pinned it down yet.
Q: What's the purpose of the meeting this afternoon with Democratic leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a good opportunity to touch base on several subjects. First, the calendar coming up in the fall in both the Senate and the House, what the Democratic leadership's understanding is at this point of the schedule that Congress will pursue. Second, the status of the negotiations over the FY '96 budget and what are the likely scenarios that we face as we think ahead to the fall. And third, the President does want to touch base on Bosnia, the current efforts to meet the U.N. conditions in Bosnia enforced by the operations that NATO has underway, and secondly, the work that Ambassador Holbrooke has been doing on the diplomatic front, and also previewing the meeting tomorrow.
Q: Who are you having brief on those foreign policy issues?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will handle most of those meetings. The President is fully up on all three of those -- well, certainly on Bosnia. But he also wants to hear from them on what their understanding of the calendar is.
Q: Is that in terms of an arms embargo override?
MR. MCCURRY: When they discuss Bosnia, certainly one of the issues is what the understanding is, current sentiment in Congress as it relates to the measure with the arms embargo, sure.
Q: Yesterday Gingrich and Dole at their press conference said they would like to sit down with you folks and discuss Medicare so that they could take the --
MR. MCCURRY: Sure --
Q: -- political rhetoric out of it. Dole seemed to suggest something like the Greenspan commission in '93. Do you see that as a promising avenue?
MR. MCCURRY: It's always promising when leaders indicate they'd like to sit down and do work as opposed to posture, of course. But what they -- it's no secret what they're doing. They're taking the issue in which they are having an extraordinarily hard time, in which the American people are essentially saying to them, you know, we don't want to see these massive cuts in Medicare that you're proposing in your seven-year budget, and they want to come and try to cut a deal on that subject because they're in trouble. They're facing a lot of heat. But the budget is an entire document that reflects revenue side as well as spending side. And you can't isolate just one difficult issue and fix it for the Republicans in Congress when Democrats in Congress when Democrats in Congress have got concern about a range of other budget issues.
So they need to write a budget of which Medicare is a piece. And certainly there are ways in which you could look at the President's proposal on how to achieve Medicare savings in his 10-year plan what they propose in their seven-year plan and get down to serious work on how you reconcile those two. But it has to be in the context of the overall budget.
The problem -- remember what's the problem here. The problem is the savings they're taking from their Medicare cuts -- $270 billion -- they're using to give $245 billion worth of tax cuts, principally to wealthy Americans. And that's -- so they're trying to, you know, let's just go over here and work on this side of the equation without touch the other side of the equation, and that's a nonstarter. They know that, and I think all of you know that, and you'll call them on that.
Q: Could you clarify what you said this morning about the administration's position on means testing for Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say anything new or different on what we've said in the past on means testing. We've introduced elements of means testing in the form of taxing portions of Social Security benefits in the past have been untaxed as a way of recapturing some of that benefits. But I'm not aware of any proposal that the administration supports that would introduce any new elements of means testing into federal assistance programs.
Q: Except that in the President's health care plan, he did propose means testing for Part B.
MR. MCCURRY: For Part B, that's right. But that's in the context of an overall health reform plan.
Q: Which is what the Republicans -- the reports are Republicans are proposing up on Capitol Hill now. So does he support that?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are reports that they support that in the context of an overall approach on Medicare. We have an overall approach on Medicare that's embodied in the President's 10-year plan. And that does not include the means testing feature.
Q: So they want to cut a deal, you say. And where does it go from here now? Where do you think it stands?
MR. MCCURRY: They want to try to get out of the hot water that they put themselves in on Medicare. And we're saying that's probably a good idea and makes some sense, but the way to do that is to pursue the President's 10-year plan, or at least sit down and seriously consider the President's 10-year plan, because that's what we do for them. We solve the problem in the short-term of Medicare solvency and achieve savings in Medicare without taking it out of the hides of beneficiaries. But we don't turn around and then destroy that progress by giving away the money in the form of tax cuts to people who don't need tax cuts.
See, that's the difference. So they need to kind of get back to square one and say we've got to just go back and rewrite the budget that we passed initially. Our seven-year budget plan can't work because we can't balance the budget and achieve the type of Medicare savings that we want to achieve. And that's where they are right now. They can't get the Medicare proposal out of the committee.
Q: Well, when and why did the President change his mind on the Part B premium increase?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because we no longer have a comprehensive health care plan. We're doing an incremental, step-by-step plan.
Q: By law, you have now means testing for veterans who use the veterans health facilities. Why don't you have the means testing for other people, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because we achieve the Medicare savings incorporated in the President's 10-year balanced budget plan without enforcing new cuts on new beneficiaries. In fact, that's one of the advantages of the President's approach to Medicare savings is that we don't propose new cuts on beneficiaries.
Q: Well, but isn't that letting a lot of people who don't have enough money to pay getting by with taking assistance at taxpayers' expense. If the veterans have to go through a means test and have to pay through that insurance or some other way to get some health facilities, why don't the other people?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because that's not currently the proposal that we're pursuing. They're looking for those savings --
Q: Why aren't you?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we don't need those savings in that form in order to balance the budget. They need those savings in the forms of means testing so that they can give away the money to the wealthy and since -- if they are proposing means testing, part b, so they can turn around and give a tax cut to the very same people in many instances. That just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Q: May I ask you another question on another subject? Has the President already made any announcement today about what he plans to do in response to Ruby Ridge?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he hasn't. I don't believe that he's expected to take any action with respect to Ruby Ridge.
Q: Isn't he going to clean up the Justice Department, and isn't he going to take out of the Justice Department the policymakers kept there by Bush who are making the policy of the Justice Department today who were involved in Ruby Ridge? There were two or three, the head of the FBI --
MR. MCCURRY: The Justice Department officials have addressed that directly, and so has the Attorney General.
Q: Well, they're not putting Freeh out; he's one of them.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Attorney General has, I think, been very clear on what she expects of personnel within the Department as they look into the matter.
Q: Well, come to think of it, the Attorney General might need a little inquisition, too.
MR. MCCURRY: All right.
Q: Are we likely to see television commercials on the budget the way we've seen ones on Medicare and crime?
MR. MCCURRY: It's conceivable, but I'm not aware of any plans to run any ads at this moment.
Q: About this meeting this afternoon with congressional delegates, on the agenda is there an effort to reduce the gap in budget plans between the administration and congressional Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: It is not a session that's designed to get into that kind of specific detail.
Q: On Ireland, is the administration at all concerned about the apparent breakdown in talks between Sinn Fein and the government? And what's the latest? Has the recent problems between the two sides, is that holding up the Mitchell appointment to this decommissioning?
MR. MCCURRY: A couple of questions there. We have been in contact with both governments about the status of their own dialogue. Their summit did not occur and we understand that they have been in dialogue and they are looking for ways to continue the peace process that they've had in place.
We know that they're committed, and we believe that both governments are committed to find a way to move forward. I should tell you, by the way, that Gerry Adams will be here sometime next week, and my understanding is he'll probably see Tony Lake and maybe some others while he's here in Washington. But on the --
Q: The President?
MR. MCCURRY: Mayhew is not scheduled to come to Washington, although I believe one of his deputies may be coming. But in any event, we continue to be in contact with the parties to see if we can remain available to them, if there is a way we can advance their dialogue.
On Senator Mitchell, there has been discussion of Senator Mitchell taking some role in some form of international commission, but any requests like that would have to come to us from the two governments, and I'm not aware that either government has requested his participation.
Q: That was expected to happen this week if this meeting had gone right.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was speculation, certainly, that that might have been one of the outcomes of the summit, but we would have awaited some formal request from the two governments for his participation.
Q: Mike, on the same subject, is the President's trip still on?
MR. MCCURRY: These discussions are certainly an important part of the President's agenda as he goes, but they will not change his plans to go at the end of November, early December.
Q: Mike, when Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down, the President said that he thought that that was the best way to keep the area open so that the public could continue to have access to the White House. But, increasingly, we're seeing the entire area blocked off for a half-hour, 45 minutes at a time every time there's a foreign leader. Today, for example, no one can walk in front of Blair House. Almost anytime there is any movement of the foreign leaders who stay at Blair House, not just that sidewalk which used to be blocked off, but the entire area is just totally shut down.
MR. MCCURRY: Did you have trouble getting in today? (Laughter.)
Q: No, not today, but -- not today, but it seems to be -- there seems to be more and more of a security --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there's any change. When Pennsylvania Avenue was open, they very frequently in front of Blair House when there was a visiting foreign dignitary had to close off portions of it, and the President does believe that if anything, the area in front of the White House is more accessible to pedestrians.
Q: But it's not, Mike, and I just wondered whether that's been called to anyone's attention here.
MR. MCCURRY: We can all go take a field trip out and walk out there. I mean, there are plenty of people out walking around and enjoying the front of the White House right now.
Q: On that same subject of Pennsylvania Avenue, why can't the White House engineers figure out some way for the disabled and the handicapped to get to the White House without having to walk several blocks?
MR. MCCURRY: There are -- actually, there are efforts as part of the National Planning Commission's study of the White House Complex issues related to accessibility that are being examined now.
Q: Well, if you leave it to the National Planning Commission, you'll be at the same place five years from now.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, maybe we can reinvent government and move it along quicker.
Q: Did the President ask for a report by September from them?
MR. MCCURRY: He did, and we'll check on the status of that and just what's going on.
Q: Does the White House have any comment on the Senate Ethics Committee's recommendation that Senator Packwood be expelled?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q: Among those budget scenarios you're looking at, since it doesn't look like all the appropriations bills will be enacted by October 1, would the White House support a 45-day continuing resolution that would take you up to mid-November when the debt ceiling is expected to --
MR. MCCURRY: See, these are all hypothetical scenarios. I'm not going to address any one particular one. Let's see what happens.
Q: The Iraqi sanctions -- I gather there is another deadline coming up for deciding whether or not to continue them. What is the United States position now given the fact that Iraq has come clean to a certain extent on their weapons --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, "come clean" is a charitable interpretation of what's happened. They have provided additional information -- they had a significant weapons program that they previously had hidden from the international community. I think that it's taken a long time for them to be forthcoming, and it's likely to take a long time for the international community to ensure that they have information indicating compliance by the Iraq government with the terms of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
We're looking for full compliance with all applicable U.N. Security Council resolutions, and they've fallen far short of meeting that goal and our government's posture as to relief from sanctions has not changed, and I doubt that the Security Council will change the current sanctions regime when the UNSCOM mission is next reviewed.
Q: Do you have any follow-up on the questions I asked yesterday about the French? Have you had any further --
MR. MCCURRY: I've checked. I know that we continue, through our embassy in Paris, have dialogue with the French government on it, but I'm not aware of any new requests or any significant demarche that would indicate a change in posture.
Q: Are you surprised by the passion of the demonstrations --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's understandable, especially in the regions of the South Pacific where there is naturally heightened concern about that testing.
Q: Mike, has the President had any response to the Senate Ethics Committee call for the expulsion of Senator Packwood?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q: Does the President think he should resign?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him address himself to that matter.
Q: What does the President plan to say at the prayer breakfast tomorrow? What kind of ground is he going to cover?
MR. MCCURRY: He has talked a lot about the way in which the values and tenants of faith inform the public dialogue in America, and you can expect him to review some of the things that he's said in the past along those lines, talk about the need for maybe a little more spirituality in the way we address some of the issues of the day when we engage in the debate here in Washington.
Q: That's going to be here?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be -- here? Yes, I think it's here.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. On ANWR, there was -- at a staff level, apparently, they're looking at issues related to how you best fulfill the President's pledge to both protect the wildlife refuge and to ensure that there's no oil drilling. There has not been any recommendation sent to the President in the form of a decision, but there have been a review of some possible steps that can be taken that prevent drilling in the wildlife area.
This comes about because there are efforts in the Republican Congress to lift the moratorium on oil drilling, and that is a source of very real concern to the administration. We're trying to look at how best to advance the objective of protecting the wildlife refuge.
One idea that has been suggested and that is under study is upgrading the status of the wildlife refuge to a national monument. That is something that is being looked at.
Q: Mike, I understand that Vice President Gore has told President Clinton that he understands that the government is letting sale from -- profits from narcotics which are coming in here be used, be laundered and be used to finance both political parties. Mr. Clinton was apparently not aware of this, but Mr. Bush apparently was. And Mr. Gore has insisted that it be stopped. And Mr. Clinton, I understand, is now saying that he will take some steps to stop this financing of political parties, both political parties, by profits from drugs coming into this country for sale which are ruining the country. Now, I wonder when Mr. Clinton is going to start his movement on this and what he's going to do.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any of that before. That sounds like the plot for a very good novel. But I haven't heard --
Q: Now, don't make fun of it, Mike, because it's true. It's true.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not making fun of it. If it's true --
Q: Just go and check it with the President.
MR. MCCURRY: All right. I'll go ask the President if he's taken any steps on that and report back to you.
Q: Mike, on Bosnia, given that the Bosnian Serbs still are coming to the negotiating table, is the administration making any recommendations about stepping up the bombing? Are there any planning meetings going on?
MR. MCCURRY: You're confusing two different things. There's a military effort underway right now which is designed to achieve the objectives that have been made very clear by the United Nations. They have to do with the safety of Sarajevo, with free access by humanitarian organizations to Sarajevo, including through the airport. And no further Serb aggression against safe areas, Sarajevo and other safe areas throughout Bosnia. Those are the purposes for which NATO is engaged in the current campaign there which is, as you know, underway, and as a result, not much I can say about that.
Now, there is a diplomatic effort that moves forward tomorrow with a very important meeting of foreign ministers. Assistant Secretary Holbrooke has been doing a lot to sort of fashion the discussion that will take place there. And we remain convinced that sooner or later the Bosnian Serbs will see that the best avenue for them lies not in further confrontation and in military conflict but in real discussions that could bring about a peaceful settlement in Bosnia. And we'll be pressing that very aggressively beginning with the diplomatic discussion as well. We have been pressing that aggressively and that effort will continue at the meeting tomorrow.
Q: Yeltsin has threatened to consider changing his relations with the West if the bombing doesn't stop. Does the administration view this as mostly being said for domestic consumption in Russia, or is it a serious new development that needs to be dealt with?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the concern that the Russian Federation has about ongoing air strikes is well-known, has been stated in the past, and is a source of some disagreement between the West and the Russian Federation. But that's been known. I think the important thing is that the Russian Federation remains a very important and very valued participant in a peace process that has been conducted under the auspices of the Contact Group and others in the international community. And we see no change in their view that the solution to the conflict in Bosnia lies through diplomacy and a peace settlement as opposed to further military conflict between the parties. That's the important central premise.
As to their relationship with the West, that is one which we continue to pursue because it is in the interest of the United States, it is in the interest of Europe, and it is in the interest of the Russian Federation itself to forge a closer working relationship with the institutions of Europe, both the political, military institutions and the economic institutions of Europe.
Q: Mike, a couple of follow up questions on ANWR. Is the feeling of some people here that if you upgraded status to national monument, you then get more leverage to sway senators not to open the refuge to oil drilling? And if that tactic were not to work and Congress sent the President legislation to open ANWR to drilling, would that be veto bait?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the discussions -- first of all, I'll take the last question first. Most of the discussions we've heard about changing the status of the wildlife refuge would take place in a reconciliation bill that's destined for oblivion now as we sit here anyhow. But the real question -- back to the first part of your questions is really how best to protect the refuge area from potential drilling. And, you know, there are some aspects of upgrading to a monument area that might be useful. That's what they're looking at now. But they're also looking to see what the practical effect of any change in current law would be and how that might be used by companies that want to drill or explore in the wildlife refuge itself.
Q: I just don't understand the potential usefulness of changing the status because, as I understand it, the refuge now is not open to drilling and the government's got it locked up. So the status quo protects the refuge. By changing it to a national monument, what usefulness do you gain other than maybe making some points on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: You're beyond my knowledge of the issue. My understanding, if I understood the information I got earlier today correctly, upgrading to the status of national monument would provide more protection against potential drilling than its current status. And it would also obviate the effect of any legislative change that would be brought about by Congress passing a rider to the reconciliation bill. They looked at that as a way of preventive measure to head off any effort by the Republican Congress to open the refuge to drilling.
Q: -- you change its legal status?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding. But I don't -- the best thing to do, I think, would be to go over to Interior and talk to Mike Gauldin or some of the folks at Interior who have been working that issue.
Q: Back to Bosnia, does the U.S. see a split now between the political and military leadership in Serbia? And is this what's causing the continued resistance?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been conflicting statements from the so-called political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs and General Mladic. What the true nature of that -- quote, end quote -- "split" is, is something that we are attempting to assess. We don't know whether that is -- if whether that represents real differences of thinking or whether it really is just an effort to cloud the issue so as to buy addition time for the Bosnian Serbs. In any event, the political authority of that leadership has always been questionable anyhow because it's not political authority recognized by anyone in the international community.
Q: Mike, last week, the President said that he thought the Bosnian Serbs were getting the message. Clearly they're not getting the message or at least they're not getting it strong enough. I mean, is the answer just more bombings, step up the bombing, different --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- you're making assumptions that I'm not willing to make at this point. There have been -- by no means, all shelling has now stopped, but Sarajevo is significantly safer now than it was prior to the commencement of air strikes. There are relief supplies getting through now. There is private commercial vehicle traffic now able to transgress to Sarajevo. I think conditions there have improved compared to prior to the commencement of air strikes when civilians were losing their lives in Sarajevo. So in some sense, some message was received somewhere.
Now, what we're looking for is full compliance with the terms that have been spelled out by General Janvier. The Bosnian Serbs know what they are. They know what the consequences are failing to meet those conditions. And ultimately they also know, we hope, that the solution to the conflict lies in the type of diplomatic effort that we are simultaneously pursuing.
Q: Has the President received any recommendations on filling the Fed vacancy? And if not, when do you think that might --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked on that in recent days, Alexis, but I think that he has not. I'll double-check to see if we've got -- I don't believe there's any recommendation that's gone from his economic advisers.
Q: Is it your understanding that it's tied up now in the expectation about what Blinder wants to do and what you're going to do with Greenspan?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know. I'll try to find out. I'll look into it and see if I can get anything on it.
Q: If Gerry Adams comes next week to meet with Lake, would it be at the White House or some other neutral --
MR. MCCURRY: It will most likely be here at the White House, but it would depend on what the schedule would allow.
Q: And would the President drop in? Any chance of that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans now, but we'll check in on that as we know more about the schedule.
Q: What about Wu? Have you nailed down a time for Wu?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that Mr. Wu was here in Washington, has seen some folks, has not been able to see Mr. Lake, and may have to go out of town, but is expected to return to Washington, and he's probably going to see Mr. Lake on one of his future visits.
Q: But it won't be today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not today as far as I know.
Q: Mike, did Adams request this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: He's apparently had plans for some time to come to Washington, even prior to the announcement of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom that they would not hold their summit. He most likely would have been planning meetings with people here in our government anyhow. But I think that this meeting has just been set up in the last several days.
Q: Well, what does he want to talk about exactly?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we want to talk about the peace process and how best to advance the peace process. And he most likely wants to talk about the same thing.
Q: Mike, on Bosnia, in recent days both Karadzic and Mladic, in explaining or commenting on why all the guns haven't been removed from the 20-kilometer exclusion zone had made basically the argument that they are fearful that if they change the military situation on the ground, as demanded by NATO, they make themselves vulnerable to the Muslims attacking their folks near Sarajevo and that they would be in a better position to comply if they got some direct assurances that there would be no change on the ground, that the Muslims would be restrained from taking advantage of their pullback. What is wrong with NATO or the U.N. making that part of the package to get them to withdraw completely from the exclusion zone?
MR. MCCURRY: Because there's no need to make that a package. The international community, NATO authorities and United Nations authorities have urged -- even prior to the commencement of air strikes, urged the Bosnian government not to take any steps militarily on the ground while NATO is attempting to enforce the conditions that have been spelled out by the United Nations. We've made that representation. Very strong diplomatic messages have gone to the Bosnian government suggesting that they should not attempt to make any headway on the ground as a result of air strikes. And the United States government's view is that those messages have been received there. There has not been, as far as I'm aware, any effort by the Bosnian government to take advantage of NATO air strikes to advance their own military position within the safe area.
Q: But there hasn't been any exclusive assurance, either from the Bosnian government or the U.S. government, or NATO or the U.N. And Jimmy Carter, I think, has been making the same point in recent days as well that maybe this standoff between the bombing and the lack of compliance by the Bosnian Serbs could be resolved if such assurances could be made more explicit.
MR. MCCURRY: It would be very easy to resolve this situation. All they need to do is take the heavy weaponry that they have used to kill and slaughter innocent civilians in downtown Sarajevo and remove them from the exclusion zone.
Now, the issue here is what were they using those artillery pieces for. They were not being used as most recently in connection with military campaigns against Bosnian government military forces. They were being used to kill innocent civilians. And so to somehow or other suggest that they ought to have -- there ought to be conditions attached to their removal from the exclusion zone is certainly a -- compounds the tragedy they have already invoke through their actions prior. The issue here is compliance with the United Nations conditions. They've been very carefully spelled out. There is no mistake at all in the view of the Bosnian Serb leadership, military or political, about what they need to do. And they need to get on with the business of complying with those conditions.
Q: What about the issue that once they move them, we end up knowing exactly where they are? And now since air strikes seem to be a viable option, then they're at greater risk of losing every piece of heavy weaponry.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, I would remind you what they've used that heavy weaponry for -- to kill innocent civilians to defy the will of the international community, which is resolved not to accept their behavior in repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions. I don't think that they're in a position right now to ask for pity.
Q: On another matter, China. Do you have any comment on the way that Donna Shalala and other U.S. representatives were treated during this most recent round of meetings in Beijing?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the First Lady addressed herself to that. And Secretary Shalala said it best, which is that whatever indignities they suffered, women throughout the world have had to go through far worse in the pursuit of their own rights.
Q: Yes, but who's going to cure this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's what the whole purpose of the conference is that's now underway.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:04 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/270087