Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

September 25, 1995

The Briefing Room

3:12 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House on this somewhat dreary, drizzly day. And having no prepared announcements of the day, I will take any questions you might have.

Q: What did he say?

MR. MCCURRY: He talked for well over an hour, and then had impromptu dialogue with a lot of participants in a rousing session of Budge Sperling's interview group, which has been going on for close to 30 years, and which has held over 2,000 -- close to 2,800 such gatherings; this being the fourth time, I believe, that a President of the United States has sat with the group.

Q: It wasn't Gene Sperling?

MR. MCCURRY: It was not Gene Sperling -- although Gene Sperling is instrumental --

Q: It was breakfast, either, was it?

MR. MCCURRY: It was not breakfast, but they did give Budge Sperling an 80th birthday cake that had his breakfast right on top of the cake -- I kid you not, scrambled eggs and bacon included. Try that on for size.

Q: So what happened? What did he have to say on Bosnia, on everything else? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well --

Q: Will you provide a transcript of this?

MR. MCCURRY: On Bosnia, he reiterated things, some things, I think many of you already know -- that we are preparing for a very important meeting of the Contact Group tomorrow, with representatives of the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic and the government of Croatia. In a short while, those same three foreign ministers from those countries will be meeting with Secretary Christopher in New York.

The President, at this moment, is participating in a meeting of his national security advisors, including Secretary Christopher, Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, Ambassador Albright and Under Secretary Peter Tarnoff, who are all in New York for meetings of the U.N. General Assembly and also for the Contact Group meeting tomorrow. They're on a secure teleconference with the President and his other national security advisors, including the Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Staff and others.

They are reviewing the instructions that the U.S. delegation will have as they pursue these very important discussions that we believe present the most promising opportunity to date for peace in Bosnia and resolving the Balkan conflicts.

Q: What kind of schtick did you use to get the Bosnian government to come?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Bosnian government understands, we believe, the importance of pursuing a political settlement that will lead to a peaceful resolution of this conflict. So much of the future of Bosnia, of the Bosnian people, those who will live within the territorial boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina depends on a resolution of this conflict and on building a peace that includes economic reconstruction and development. It's a powerful incentive to now turn to peace, both sides having exhausted possibilities, by and large, through their conflict that has raged in recent weeks.

Q: -- wasn't reluctant to do this anyway --

Q: -- Izetbegovic about that caused him to reverse his position on sending the Foreign Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I would suggest to you that in Bosnia, as we have seen over the weekend in the Middle East, as we see in so many places in the world, that U.S. leadership is an indispensable element in resolving many of the conflicts that exist in the post-Cold War era; and that is the work that the President and other members of the administration have done this weekend. And we hope it will lead to a productive and fruitful discussion of peace at the meetings today and tomorrow.

Q: So are we tell them now or never, or what? What did we --

MR. MCCURRY: We suggested to them that the best interests of the people of the Balkans and the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in particular, lie with this new initiative to seek a peaceful settlement. We made that clear, I think, to the Bosnian government, as we've made it clear to all the parties in the conflict.

Q: Did we threaten to withhold the NATO bombings and so forth --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that threats were necessary. As the Bosnian government has indicated, in the words of the Prime Minister, it was not necessary to encourage the parties to come back to the table to look at the very difficult issues that lie ahead. It's understandable, in the middle of a negotiation, that both parties find many of the issues that need to be resolved in this conflict difficult to address and difficult to stomach.

And we sympathize with some of those views, and we know that the requirements of peace for the Bosnian government -- as with, indeed, some aspects of the other parties as well -- will be difficult. But we believe that that is a far preferable direction for the future of that country than continued conflict.

Q: Mike, the Russian Defense Minister today suggested that President Yeltsin is going to present President Clinton with the idea of a joint command when some kind of peacekeeping force goes in. It sounds like alternating -- sometimes it's NATO, sometimes it's Russia. Has the President seen anything on this, and do you have any comment on it?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen anything on that, and to my knowledge, the President has not either. We are still at a point where we're trying to get the parties to resolve their differences and fashion a peace settlement. It will be some time before we can then turn to the question of how best the West can assist in the implementation of that peace.

Now our view has longstanding been that the best way for the West to be involved in implementing that peace is through a NATO force that would be there to help the parties make good on the commitments they make at the negotiating table. But the contours of that implementation force are not known at this date because we don't have the contours of the agreement itself.

Q: Can I just follow up on that? Last week members of Congress seemed very upset at the idea of a large force of Americans participating. And one of the complaints they made was that the administration, they felt, had not talked enough to members of Congress. What's happened on that front, and do you sense that there's been any movement in there --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, first, I believe General Shalikashvili gave a very effective rebuttal to the overall proposition that the size of the force is a question that can be dealt with in the fashion suggested by some members of Congress. Secondly, the importance of congressional consultation is something we have always acknowledged, and have, in fact, consulted with Congress as we've gone through this process.

But the President acknowledges that as we enter into a new, and we hope, more hopeful era in the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina that there will be requirements upon the U.S. as we exert our leadership. Those ought to be fully explained to the American people and to the United States Congress. And, indeed, the President, among other reasons, devoted his Saturday radio address to the subject for that purpose. He will continue to speak on that issue as we attempt to resolve the conflict through successful diplomacy.

Q: Mike, are the White House and President prepared to do what Senator Helms seems to want in order to get this logjam broken of --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have respectfully listened to the arguments of Senator Helms. The President has met personally with him. We just have a different view as to what makes sense as we structure American foreign policy in this post-Cold War era. The President is interested in seeing this impasse broken so we can move on with the effective conduct of America's foreign policy. We live in a world in which, as I said earlier, the leadership the United States provides is absolutely indispensable. And whether we're talking about Haiti -- think of where we've been in the last year --from Haiti to the progress in Northern Ireland, to the new -- interim agreement that we're celebrating between the Israelis and the Palestinians, to the work we've done to structure a safer and more secure Europe. The benefits of our diplomacy are coming home to the American people in the form of a safer and more secure world, and, indeed, a more prosperous world.

Q: So what do you do to break this --

MR. MCCURRY: And the conduct of diplomacy depends on having a diplomatic corps that is every bit as prepared as is our military. And we believe that impasse can be broken, will be broken. And that's part of the issues that will be resolved in weeks ahead.

Q: Well, so have you got something going there with him? Have you made any headway with him or are you just simply remain at --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not clear at this point whether Chairman Helms' ideas will make any headway within the United States Congress itself. So I think, in part, we have to wait and see what the disposition of Congress is. Many members of Congress understand the importance of the role America plays in the world, and they know that to undercut that role is not in the best interest of the American people.

Q: Mike, what did the President say at Sperling about Newt Gingrich's threat to hold up the debt ceiling increase if the budget impasse --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't -- for those of you who don't participate in the session, I can't provide you a verbatim account, but it's reasonable to assume that the President addressed that issue much as many of us have addressed it on his behalf, that to allow the United States to renege on its obligations to pay its debts, to be an honorable citizen of the world community and the global economy would be a very irresponsible thing to do.

Q: Mike, at the Sperling gathering, I understand that the President talked more about the national funk, and talked about his comments -- either they were misinterpreted by some of us who were on the plane or he just discussed them at greater --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'll come back to that in a second. I think the President also made it clear in this session that he would not be blackmailed by threats to allow that ceiling to expire or to fail to be extended. And he made it clear that we need to get to the underlying fundamental issues that are at dispute in this budget debate; and that threats and the type of negotiating tactics that might be underway right now would not be in the best interest of the United States in the long term for several reasons.

First, because it would create uncertainty in global economic markets about the good faith and credit of the United States government. And that would conceivably raise the interest costs associated with servicing a debt, and ultimately, undermine what the Republicans profess to want to do, which is balance the budget. You make it harder if you increase the size of the debt service that the United States carry.

Q: Has there been any contact with Gingrich? I mean, as you mentioned this morning he's had various positions on this issue to determine exactly what -- he's talked at one point about week to week and --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, on this issue, there will be -- have to be further discussions. I'll tell you that at the moment, our work with Congress is focused on the more immediate issue of what to do at the end of this week. Congress has not sent the President of the United States a single appropriations bill for signature. The end of the fiscal year is the end of this month, October 1st. We in a sense are playing catch-up. It's a very irresponsible and ineffective and inefficient way to do the nation's business.

It's not a very good reflection of the leadership of this Congress, that they can't meet, in an orderly way, the timing required by the Budget Act itself. They, in a sense, are breaking the law by not sending to the President, in a timely fashion, the appropriations bills that are due on his desk.

Now, that happens from time to time; we all know that. The traditional solution is a continuing resolution. And so the focus of our work right now with the Congress is on that issue of how we best set the ground rules for the overtime that we will now enter, as of October 1. So Mr. Panetta met with the chairs of the two appropriations committees over the weekend. They instructed the staffs to follow up on some of the underlying issues, which they are doing today. And hopefully we'll see progress on the terms of a continuing resolution this week.

Q: Did the President use the word "blackmail" in terms of the debt limit?

MR. MCCURRY: Let's see, I'm looking down at my notes here. That's why I used that word. I try to accurately reflect the President's thinking when I can.

Q: Mike, do you care how long the timeframe is --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, six weeks; we can live with six weeks, although that seems long to us. We need to make sure, though, that during that period in which we are continuing operating under a continuing resolution, in a sense, running overtime, that we hold harmless both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch as to priorities. The President cannot accept and doesn't think Congress should ask of him to buy into the priorities of the underlying budget debate. And what we ought to do is to, in a sense, continuing existing law that meet the spending targets that have been set by the congressional budget resolution in order to buy time to resolve the fundamental issues that will lead to the eventual resolution of these issues.

The President, by the way, was very optimistic that, in the end, you would achieve some type of reconciliation with the Congress on these budget issues, and that we would be able to see a measure pass.

Q: Mike, is it the President's concept also that Congress is, in essence, breaking the law, as you just said, by not sending him the appropriations bills, or is that your phrase?

MR. MCCURRY: That's my phrase.

Q: Was it not the President just -- or you, from the podium, just a couple weeks ago, talking about shortening the time of any continuing resolution? Is there a sense that Gingrich is trying to one up you by now talking in days when just a couple weeks ago you, yourself, were talking in a matter of a couple weeks, a few weeks rather than a longer period of time?

MR. MCCURRY: I mean, we are looking -- there's a longer -- we had suggested a shorter period of time. And now Congress is apparently -- has under discussion a longer period of time. And that, you know, might likely be a period we can live with provided that it's done under terms that the President would find palatable. It would be unacceptable to him to have to accept certain committee marks coming from the Congress that do things that the President has already said are absolutely unacceptable, zeroing out certain programs that he said are not things that he is willing to accept as part of a larger budget compromise.

Q: You mean, he'd let the government shut down to preserve three weeks of funding for some program?

MR. MCCURRY: Well -- I mean, that's an arbitrary question -- that's an arbitrary question, absent specifics. What we're suggesting is the way to do this is to do look at the spending targets to make across-the-board reductions so you meet the spending targets; and that by the time necessary to resolve those issues that will have to be resolved before we face the real issue of shutting down the government.

Q: That's some sort of proportionally smaller thing that's the effect of a -- like a --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are ways that you -- that we have under discussion now, I believe --

Q: Like temporary restraining order.

MR. MCCURRY: -- believe going under -- you know, now under discussion with the staff on the Hill ways that we could meet these targets in an effective way so that we don't jeopardize our ability to reach a fundamental compromise on all the issues that will be necessary to resolving the budget impasse.

Q: Is it fair to say you were trying to make sure the continuing resolution doesn't prejudice the outcome?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's correct -- in other words, a so-called "clean" resolution, as some people refer to it.

Q: Are you saying the President would veto anything that falls short of his request for an across-the-board -- across-the-board --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that we -- we need a good-faith continuing resolution that allows both the Congress and the President time to negotiate their underlying fundamental differences on the budget. And that the President believes, and those doing the negotiating believe, that ought to be achievable; that it won't be achievable if the Congress insists on things that the President has already said are clearly unacceptable.

Q: Are you also exploring ways to keep the government operating in case you don't get the cooperation you want from Congress, ways to continue spending through executive action?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that. The question is whether or not the government defaults at the end of the day. And the President clearly thinks that's a bad idea, thinks that anyone who understands America's place in the world economy would understand that's a bad idea. And it's hard to imagine, in the President's view, that anyone would threaten to put the United States government and the people of the United States in that precarious position.

Q: Let me -- if I can rephrase the question. Would the President find it advisable to try -- since the default would, the President believes, be so clearly not in the interest of the U.S. government, would he attempt to protect the standing of the U.S. by acting through executive order to keep the government operating minus the cooperation of Congress?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there -- the President will try to protect the safety and security of the American people as best he can, given whatever tools are available to him as they come from Congress. The best way is clearly full appropriations bills and passed in a timely manner; absent that, a continuing resolution that allows time for that type of overall budget compromise to be reached. The rest of what the details look like are at this point pretty speculative until we get some sense of how the Hill and the White House negotiators are going to resolve some of the issues.

Q: -- complete the report that was being prepared for the President from each agency on what is a essential --

MR. MCCURRY: Shutdown plan?

Q: Yes. The shutdown plan.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I suspect so because some had come in at the point of the deadline that OMB had suggested to agencies. We need to check on that. I can report back to you on that tomorrow. But I know that they've been working through some of those plans.

Q: Mike, would you say that the negotiations of the last four days or so minus the weekend have been going better? Has there been progress? How would you characterize the talks between your staff and the Capitol staff?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd say based on Mr. Panetta's sense of his meeting with the two congressional appropriations chairs that there's been progress.

Q: How would you characterize the talks?

MR. MCCURRY: I said that there's been progress in those talks.

Q: I mean, are they -- are they -- not only been progress, but would you say that they're getting down to some real business, and there's not any kind of angry animosity going on there, or how would you describe them?

MR. MCCURRY: I would say that there's a seriousness of purpose and understands that there are real fundamental differences that underlie the positions of the Republican majority and the President. But there's a good-faith effort on the part of the White House to attempt to resolve those differences so that we can move ahead. From the Republican majority, it's not entirely clear, based on public statements of some of the leadership, which direction they want to go at this point. In fact, there's some troubling indicators as we saw over the weekend.

Q: So you don't have a resolution yet or you don't know --

MR. MCCURRY: -- as of now, to my knowledge, we have not been able to resolve those issues on a CR.

Q: Do you have late-breaking Bosnia news, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Let's go -- we'll come back to that. Let me read this for a second and keep going.

Q: Is it accurate to say, then, the only outlying issue is the spending formula, because there is -- (inaudible) -- legislative riders attached -- (inaudible) -- agreement not to have any non-germane riders attached?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to -- the substance and shape of any agreement on the continuing resolution, I'll leave to those who are doing the negotiating. But we believe it ought to be possible to achieve this week, prior to the end of the fiscal year, on the type of measure that the President would be able to live with that gives us the additional time to begin addressing the real issue, which is how are we going to write a budget that reaches the President's goal and the Congress's goal of a balanced budget and does so without exacting the type of price that the President has suggested is unacceptable.

Q: Mike, could you elaborate a little more on this idea that they're breaking the law by not bringing the --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the law -- the Budget Act requires the passage of appropriations bills by October 1st. They clearly have failed to do that. Now, that happens from time to time. I think we probably on the first year of the Clinton presidency may have slipped the deadline on two out of the 13 appropriations bills, I think, and the subsequent year we met every deadline in a timely fashion. You can do it when there is leadership from both the White House and the Congress sufficient to get the job done. But this Congress and this Republican leadership has had trouble, frankly, doing things in a timely and an efficient way.

Q: Mike, was the President asked in the lunch about Medicare, whether he has more details forthcoming or whether he would embrace more than $124 billion --

MR. MCCURRY: He was not asked a question during the formal part of the lunch about further details.

Q: Mike, for those of us on deadline, can we come back to Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, back to Bosnia. Just a readout. David, jump in and add in anything I need to add in.

I already told you that the President was conducting this video teleconference with his other principal foreign policy advisers. The Vice President was also in attendance, in addition to the others I mentioned earlier. And they talked for about 30 minutes. The President got a good briefing on the course of the negotiations and some of the work that our team did in the region over the course of this weekend. They also talked on how to best use the opportunity, meaning tomorrow, to advance our overall objectives as they relate to the political settlement.

The President instructed the delegation to pursue a negotiated settlement aggressively, kind of reminded them that the best interests of the United States certainly lie in a peaceful settlement of this conflict. The President, clearly reflecting on the work outlined, agreed with the assessment of several around the table that there's a lot of work that needs to be done on some of the underlying issues that define this negotiation -- geographic issues, issues related to constitutional arrangements and affiliations. These will be very difficult issues for the parties to address, but we will pursue a resolution of these issues diligently.

Q: Mike, did the President, beyond receiving a briefing and expressing his view that a negotiated settlement ought to be pursued, and noting the difficulty of some of the underlying issues, did the President have any instructions for his diplomats on this? Any specific ideas that he told them to pursue other than --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, as I just indicated -- as I indicated in doing the readout, that he has had at various points in recent weeks some specific ideas that he thinks would -- reflecting on what we hear from the parties, what we hear not only from the Bosnian government, but also what is communicated to us by representatives of President Milosevic, and by representatives of President Tudjman. He's reflecting on those various positions, suggested some ways in which they might make progress as they attempt to resolve the underlying issues. And those have been factored into the instructions that have been given to our delegation in New York and to Assistant Secretary Holbrooke.

Indeed, those were exactly -- that was exactly the purpose of the discussion today -- to fashion and fine-tune the instructions that will be used by our negotiators as they meet with the representatives of the parties tomorrow.

Q: Mike, I got a welfare question, but I didn't want to butt in front --

Q: Can we ask one Bosnia question?


Q: And that is, did he give any sense, any kind of pep talk that this is a particular point in time or anything?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, these are serious discussions, and pep talks are for other days.

Q: The President would never give a pep talk --

MR. MCCURRY: I think he is satisfied that Secretary Christopher and his team from the State Department and those representing the inter-agency negotiating team have done a very good job in moving this process forward. This -- the search for political solution to the Bosnian conflict was stuck, dead in the water, not less than several months ago.

And when the United States re-entered this picture with a new initiative, dating back to the London conference, we've been able to move things forward. The people of Sarajevo today are certainly a lot safer than they were prior to the entry of this President into these discussions. And the President wants them to press forward because the job's not done yet.

Q: But does the U.S. support the total sovereignty of the Bosnian government, an autonomy within this government -- Serbs?

MR. MCCURRY: We have always insisted upon the recognition of the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. That has been a central premise of our diplomatic approach. And one of the key achievements of this London conference was the acknowledgement of that territorial integrity by the government of the former Yugoslav Republic.

Q: Well, why did they feel a need -- I'm sorry --why did they feel a need, then, to get some sort of guarantee on just that issue before they apparently would come back to the table?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's safe to say that they are in the midst of a negotiation.

Q: The national mood, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, oh, back to your question. Look, he -- no, the President suggested only to those who asked about his session on the plane on the way back from California that they read both the good pool report that was done and the full transcript of the session. And because exactly the type of excitement that he was communicating about the work that lies ahead, what he is doing as he describes for the American people his vision of America's 21st century and how he is leading to get to that destination is something that, personally, gives him a lot of both enthusiasm and excitement. And he suggested that you can catch the flavor of a lot of that by reading the full transcript of what he had to say.

Q: But he still feels the country is in a funk?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, he said that was probably not the right word to say. What he said is that the American people want to know, you know, why in the midst of reports of a more -- of a stronger economy, a more prosperous America, all the job creation that's taken place in the last two-and-a-half years, the clear evidence that most places in this country crime is on the decline, that things are improving, Americans feel uncertain about the future. And he suggests putting in a historical context that we are going through an extraordinary period of change that is remarkable as you look through the history of our country. We are in a sense making that transition from one era defined by the industrial world of the Cold War into a new, safer, more prosperous, more secure world that has enormous opportunities for the American people. But that type of change can be unsettling to people.

And the President is suggesting that there's a way to manage this change and to make it through in a way that enhances the security of Americans and makes them feel more confident about the future. That was all for -- what you need to do is look at the transcript of the President as he discussed this issue with some of the reporters on the way home over the weekend.

Q: Mike, if I'm not mistaken, this administration has granted welfare waivers for things that would be like a family cap. And I was wondering, as you approach those negotiations, whether there are kinds of penalties on illegitimacy that you would be amenable to if they included something like a child care voucher along with it. Is that an area of possible --

MR. MCCURRY: Our specific views on family caps are reflected in the position the White House took on various amendments that pertain to the fundamental welfare reform bills that went through the Senate. It's true that we have allowed for some experimentation. And those experiments, as you know, in the case of New Jersey and elsewhere, are being evaluated. But I do think that the President feels that the overall goals of welfare reform ought to be to certainly include making that transition from welfare to work a realistic one by providing opportunities for those who are left behind, specifically the children, to have the type of subsistence they need so that they can survive in an environment in which one or more of their parents are going to be required to work. Children ultimately can't pay the price for the sins of their fathers and mothers.

Q: Does he care whether it's a cash grant to the mother, or whether it could be given as a voucher for child --

MR. MCCURRY: He cares more that they look at the exact way to protect the children who might be the victims of any arbitrary cap or cut in assistance. And he believes in the premise of giving states flexibility as they attempt to manage that equation.

Q: Mike, on the Middle East, does the President anticipate asking for any more money for Palestinian reconstruction from Congress, or alternatively from the donors group?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see. One of the things that we have done since October 1993 is to build on the work that the Israelis and the Palestinians have done together, by encouraging and providing incentives for the international community to donate to the progress that the Palestinians will surely make as they implement their side of both the declaration and now the interim agreement.

Part of the problem, frankly, has been that pledges that were made have not always been timely in being received. And one of the things that we've done through our diplomacy is to encourage those to be more forthcoming with their donations. But that applies equally to us. We've got commitments that we have made, dating back to October of 1993 that need to be fulfilled. And the work of building peace in the West Bank and in Gaza and under the terms of the agreement that have been reached will be an ongoing effort. We've put a lot of effort of the United States government into that through U.S. AID and through the private sector involvement that we've been able to encourage. And we certainly will, as part of our democratic effort, encourage other countries to make similar types of contributions.

Q: What else did he say about the Middle East?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not -- that was -- he referenced it at the beginning of his remarks. There was not an extensive question, frankly surprisingly, not much questioning on that subject.

Q: Any more details, Mike, on Thursday?

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q: Any more details on Thursday?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I've heard -- I mean, we are looking for signing of the agreement that has now been reached roughly around noon, but continuing the work over a lunch that will follow, reception that night on Thursday. And the President does intend to have bilateral working sessions during both Thursday and Friday with Chairman Arafat, President Mubarak, Prime Minister Rabin and King Hussein.

Q: What happens to the Freedom Medal that day?

MR. MCCURRY: That will fit somewhere in the schedule as we develop the schedule.

Q: What should we read into the fact that the President did not call President Assad, though he called five other Middle Eastern leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: That the Syrian-Israeli track of the Middle East process is one that works well, I think there are elements of it that intersect with some of the underlying questions in the other tracks, then there must be a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region; that we recognize, as the government of Syria would recognize, that the progress they are able to make on that track is something that is dependent on the discussions that need to occur between the government of Israel and the government of Syria.

Q: Was the absence of the phone call designed to send some signal to President Assad?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it wasn't.

Q: Do you anticipate a Syrian presence on Thursday?

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that an invitation will be extended for representation, most likely at the ambassadorial level.

Q: Where was the lunch held today?

MR. MCCURRY: The State Dining Room.

Q: Any other things come up?

Q: Do you have a transcript of that?

MR. MCCURRY: We will make a transcript available for reporting in a.m. papers tomorrow which means that wires, which would be of interest to you, wouldn't be allowed to transmit today.

Q: What time would that be?

MR. MCCURRY: 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Q: 12:01 a.m.?


Q: When do we get it?

MR. MCCURRY: -- able to cut you some slack so you don't have to stay awake until midnight?

Q: You can put it out embargoed, right? Can't you?

Q: Get it when?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll try.

Q: Midnight.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: -- I can't hear the question.

Q: The Democrats have been criticizing Republicans for not having a lot of public hearings on the Medicare plan. Yet, the White House is using the argument that it won't come forward with its details at this point because if it were, then the Republicans would use those details to finance and find out --

MR. MCCURRY: Do you doubt that?

Q: Pardon?

MR. MCCURRY: Do you doubt that? Do you doubt that that's true?

Q: She's supposed to ask the question, and you're supposed to answer. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's a reasonably good argument that they would -- that if we came forward a proposal like that they would pocket that and run off and take the money and use it to give away as a tax break to folks who haven't asked for it and who don't need it. That's pretty clear what would happen in that case.

Q: -- you're not allowing public disclosure --

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, come on. That is ludicrous. They are the ones who are suggesting that there are $270 billion worth of cuts that are necessary in Medicare and another $142 billion or whatever it is out of Medicaid. So the burden of proof lies with those who would make the proposition that we need those deep, massive cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

You know, they make the -- they have a difficult time making that case now because that's hard to do. It's hard to do that without causing enormous pain to the elderly of this country and to those, frankly, who are going to be in desperate need of health care. And they -- and that's why they're playing this shell game on where the details of their proposal are right now, because they can't do it without exacting an enormous price. So they've so far gotten away from it -- gotten away with keeping the details under wraps.

If you want -- as I've said -- I've said over and over again, you want details on our plan -- if the Congress will suggest to the President, you know, maybe you've got an idea with your 10-year balanced budget plan, and the contours of the proposal that you've made on Medicare and Medicaid that would make some sense and that would case less pain for the American people than our proposal, and, you know, we invite you to present those and put them on the table so that we can look at them seriously, that would be a world of difference. They haven't made that suggestion. They don't seem to show any interest in having that type of discussion. The President wishes they would show that interest.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 3:49 P.M. EDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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