Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me start with one announcement and one statement that you had requested earlier. First, just to advise you, the Vice President tomorrow is going to be highlighting some of the impact on our ability to protect the environment as a result of proposed budget cuts that the Republican Congress has submitted. He will do so at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Potomac Filtration Plant of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. I know you will try to have great sport with me now on that. (Laughter.) I will not crack a smile.
He will be there with Carol Browner, the EPA Administrator, and they're going to be releasing an EPA report entitled "National Water Quality Inventory." Should be interesting for those of you who are not in Paris. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh boy, what a choice. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The choice between tromping around in sewers with the Vice President of the United States and being with the President of the United States in Paris. Difficult one, I do admit. I'm sure you will make your judgments accordingly.
Q: The sewers of Paris are very well known.
Q: Which one was the sewer again? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I just knew I couldn't do that with a straight face. I'm going to start all over here. All right. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House and to our daily briefing. Several of you asked earlier today for a response from the White House to the sentencing and conviction of the Chinese leader, Wei Jingsheng. The United States condemns this or any action designed to silence the voices of democracy.
As most know, Wei is an internationally acclaimed spokesman, activist for democracy in China, a nominee for the Nobel Prize, recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation Award for Human Rights. He has been held incommunicado by Chinese authorities since April of 1994. The United States government has often called for his release, and today we do so again.
The international community recognizes the right of persons to express peacefully their political and religious views. China's statements of adherence to these international covenants should now be matched by its actions.
Q: Will there be any policy consequences for the Chinese taking this action?
MR. MCCURRY: We have often raised in our bilateral discussions with the People's Republic our concerns about human rights. They are a feature, a prominent feature of our bilateral dialogue, and in that sense there will be implications because it will continue to be a subject upon which the two governments disagree and that will continue to be a subject that the United States government will raise in our bilateral meetings.
Q: Something like that, I mean, it wouldn't affect like MFN status again, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's specific history on that goes back. Our human rights concerns we have expressed in a bilateral dialogue with China. We continue to believe that those differences that exist between the two governments should be addressed within the structure of a relationship which we think properly should be engaged and should flourish.
But this has been acknowledged by both the Chinese side and by the U.S. side to be an area of disagreement, and we will continue to press our human rights concerns as we have not only in the case of Wei Jingsheng, but in others, as we have bilateral discussions at high levels with the Chinese government.
Q: Does that mean you're still following the policy of not linking the human rights and MFN?
MR. MCCURRY: We use the President's policy as it relates to the Most Favored Nation status -- was clearly set forth last year in the announcement, and the executive order signed by the President, and that still governs that feature of the relationship.
Q: So you have no leverage at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not correct at all. There has been a great deal of worldwide attention paid to this case. Despite the fact that Western journalists were not able to witness the trial, there was -- there were Chinese press that attended this and the case itself, and the trial itself has now attracted worldwide attention. And we strongly suspect there will be other governments that will join the United States today in condemning this sentence and condemning the conviction and calling for Wei Jingsheng's release. That's a form of international pressure that the Chinese will certainly notice; whether or not they respond directly to.
Q: But nothing more than a condemnation, no action planned, or no retaliation?
MR. MCCURRY: No. As I say, that continues to be an issue that we will raise in the context of our bilateral relationship.
Q: Speaker Gingrich today, I gather, says that he will approve a continuing resolution until Monday if the White House submits yet another new budget that's in balance in a seven-year period, since the CBO found your last week seven-year budget to be $300 billion short. Would you take him up on that offer?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the CBO has not found anything definitive about our budget, and that's, frankly, something that they need to do at this point. The CBO now needs to go through and do a full scoring based on the legislative language and specifications that we've submitted so that the Republican majority in Congress have a better idea of the President's seven-year proposal that's now on the table.
The President's proposal for the matter -- the President's plan to balance the budget in seven years is now the only proposal to balance the budget on the table because the Republican majority has not presented a plan. There is no plan from them available, the President having vetoed the reconciliation bill. So at the moment, since the President's plan is the only plan available, we believe it should be scored properly by the Congressional Budget Office. The only other proposal that is available is the one that the coalition, the moderate conservative Democrats -- the one that they have advanced, that, too, should be scored by the Congressional Budget Office in detail, not in estimate form, in detail. And then we will be able to turn to the Republicans and ask them to present their ideas, their budget plans, so there can be a good-faith negotiation.
The President has pledged to a good-faith negotiation. We've found everyone on the Republican side cooperative and employing an attitude of common sense, with one exception.
Q: Who is that exception, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: You can refer that question to your congressional correspondents that you work with.
Q: CBO, as I understand it, is supposed to announce today the scoring on your budget.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we suspect that when they -- when they do, our own eyeball estimate of our plan using CBO assumptions, not the more accurate OMB assumptions, is that under their -- under their estimate would be in the neighborhood of $100 billion or just less than $100 billion in deficit by the year 2002.
Now, we're encouraged by that and we believe that as the CBO further refines its own economic assumptions in consultation with the OMB, as they get, you know -- the problem, as I indicated yesterday, with the CBO economic forecast, is that it's very pessimistic in the out-years. They think it's going to be bad news for the economy that we're balancing the budget. The OMB tends to think it's going to be good news for the economy, and we are far less negative in the out-years about what will happen to unemployment, interest rates, GDP growth, issues like that.
And we believe that in consultation between OMB and CBO they will further refine economic assumptions and that at the end of the day they will know what we already know, which is the President's proposal does in fact reach balance in the year 2002.
Q: What's the answer to the question? So you don't intend to put any other form of budget before Friday in order to keep the government working?
MR. MCCURRY: We've put down a budget. We now have to have the Republicans put down their proposal. There is no proposal from the Republicans pending. There is no plan from the Republicans pending. They had a plan, it didn't meet the test that Congress and the President established as to protecting Medicare and Medicaid, education, environmental protection, not raising taxes on working people, so they now need to come forward with a plan that meets that test. They have not done so. The President has done so. So when the Republicans come forward with a plan that meets the test of a seven-year track to balance the budget that also simultaneously protects our obligations to our elderly, to the need for economic growth, then we can talk.
What we're saying is, take a look at our plan, evaluate it according to your own assumptions, your own economic assumptions, take a look at the coalition's budget. We can then compare apples to apples and then you need to bring some apples to the table too, and then we'll all compare apples.
Q: Mike, that's what they are suggesting. On Friday, there is -- Gingrich is actually saying, let's swap proposals on Friday. They say they're --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's good. They have ours and we'll take theirs Friday.
Q: Well, they say they're going to submit a new Republican plan on Friday. They want the administration to come up with another plan that will make deeper cuts in the one that you've suggested.
MR. MCCURRY: They have a plan from us, they need to score it. They, as you indicate, we hope, intend to produce their plan on Friday, and then they can talk and we'll see where the negotiations go from there.
I don't rule out that we would then begin to have some good-faith negotiations on how you reconcile those two plans.
Q: Mike, since you've already eyeballed your plan --
MR. MCCURRY: Which was a clever answer to your question.
Q: Since you've already eyeballed your plan for their new numbers, you keep on using -- you would have a $100-billion deficit in the year 2002. Well, how much would you have to cut spending by to get to zero in the year 2002 based on their --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view is, not at all, because as they begin to refine those economic assumptions, they will see what we already know based on the more accurate OMB assumptions --
Q: That's not what I'm asking.
MR. MCCURRY: -- that the budget does reach balance by the year 2002.
Q: No, no, no. You said you've eyeballed your plan with their new assumptions and you have determined that it leaves a $100-billion deficit in the year 2002. I'm asking you how much spending do you have to cut to get to zero in 2002 using their new numbers.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, $100 billion -- would be pretty close.
Q: Is that over -- that's over the seven years?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't get the question. Am I missing something with the question? No, that's the 2002 number. That's the 2002 -- that's the fiscal year 2002 number in the final --
Q: I'm asking for the cumulative --
MR. MCCURRY: -- cumulative total over that period? I don't know the answer for that.
Q: So where do you stand now?
Q: Just to pin you down one more time, would the administration -- would the administration -- let me just get the question out -- would the administration be willing to come up with another plan that makes deeper cuts in spending if the Republicans come up with another plan of their own on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: They have got -- we have got a plan on the table, we think that it would be a sign of good faith on the part of the Republican majority for them to look carefully at that plan using their own less-than-accurate assumptions if they want to, and then we will see whether they want to respond by laying down their budget. We hope they will lay down their budget on Friday and then we can have a serious, good-faith negotiation, and we'll see where it goes from there. And there will be efforts to reconcile those two different plans.
Q: Between now and Friday, though, is it possible that you might have some changes in your plan that perhaps meld to the Stenholm proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Not -- the Chief of Staff has indicated to the Republican side that's not likely.
Q: Mike, would the CBO scoring calls you to take another look at your own budget and revise it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we believe that our plan is a good-faith effort to reach that goal of a balanced budget by the year 2002, and we believe that as there are further consultations between OMB and CBO as required by law, as required by the continuing resolution, that there will be an agreement as to the forecast for the economy that will make it clear that our budget goes very close, if not hits the balanced budget mark by 2002.
Q: Is Governor Engler --
MR. MCCURRY: We obviously accept the premise that might -- that there may not have agreement on that type of assumptions and if they don't, we'll have to look and see where we are. But that would be part of the negotiation where they've agreed in the terms of the continuing resolution to score the final agreement according to the jointly arrived-at CBO numbers after consultation with OMB.
Q: Do you think Governor Engler will be able to talk the President out of his commitment to a guarantee on Medicaid?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think they will have a good discussion of that issue, and the President will come to that discussion well armed. Being a former governor himself, he understands a lot about the effect of Medicaid funding and the impact on state budgets, and he looks forward to having a good discussion with the governors. He was very encouraged by the governors -- bipartisan governors, recently indicating that if there is an availability of funding as a result of any adjustments in the CPI, it ought to go into exactly the priorities the President's been stressing.
Q: Is this three governors that are coming? Romer and Engler and a third.
MR. MCCURRY: Around 1:30 p.m.
Q: When D'Amato talks on the Hill about the President's interest in a guarantee in Medicaid, what's the difference in his mind between a guarantee and an entitlement?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's using those as synonyms.
Q: So in terms of trying to find some movement to appeal to governors, the distinction is not about a right to sue or there -- it's a semantic difference without a distinction?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the principal concern the President has is one related to funding. His concern is that if you block grant the program, turn it back to the states with no guarantee of federal funding to meet the commitment to provide that health care to the elderly, the health care won't be there. It's the same problem in some sense that we have when we talk about Medicare funding and the Republicans keep saying, well, we're increasing spending.
The point is, if you're increasing spending but you're not protecting against inflation or protecting against bad economic times and people are going to be left short, which is why we continue to insist that in one way or another, we're concerned that the Republican budget actually cuts Medicare.
Q: So if there was enough funding it would be okay to do away with the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the way to protect -- the way to guarantee the funding, and the reason why the funding issue is important is that if you've got the guarantee -- you know, if you got the guarantee to the individual person that they need the health care, then you've got to -- you got to make sure you've got the funding available to protect the guarantee. So that's why the President has stressed the guarantee.
Q: What's your betting now on the shut-down? Do you have any better picture?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I say, there is -- there clearly is sentiment within the Republican majority in Congress to not have to conduct these negotiations in an environment in which we're threatening a government shut-down. We would hope that attitude would extend across the board on the Republican side. It doesn't yet, quite obviously, but we think that there are leaders who will lead in the Republican majority and will make it clear to their members that threatening the American people, threatening the American taxpayer, and threatening federal workers with shutting down government is not the proper way to write a budget. And it's about time that the leaders up there made that point. And certainly, we compliment Senator Dole for some of his comments, because he's certainly in that frame of mind.
Q: Would the President be willing to just accept a CR extension till Monday or Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me just go ahead and tell you, that's a silly idea. You know, it just is, "Let's give us 48 hours here to the end." I don't understand it. We don't understand that. The President doesn't understand the kind of reasoning that would say, you know, let's have a rolling crisis every 24 hours or 48 hours or something like that. We want-good faith negotiations to balance the budget. We want them now. We've put down a plan. The President's got a proposal. You know, he's willing to have the Congressional Budget Office look at it and evaluate it according to their economic assumptions. And then we need to have from them some sense of where they want to go, because the have failed to meet the test of providing a budget that protects Medicare, Medicaid, the environment, education, and that doesn't raise taxes on working people.
Q: When Clinton talked to Gingrich, what was the tone of their discussion yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: They, you know, I would -- it's safe to say that what I'm telling you is exactly what the President told the Speaker. He said, "I'm committed to having good faith negotiations. We need to get on with it. We shouldn't shut the government down Friday night. That's a bad idea."
Q: Well, if Tuesday is early, how about next Friday, right before Christmas? Where would that get you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that doesn't -- you know, that just means that you've got the uncertainty that federal workers have to face on Christmas Eve, going into the holiday weekend. Our preference, as we said yesterday, was to send it into the new year so that gives the negotiators ample time to wrestle with what are going to be very difficult issues. There's still the big philosophical differences between these two sides, and they need to be reconciled, and we think that ought to be done outside the context of crisis at the holiday season.
Q: Do you think Dole and Gingrich are going to come around to the January 26th date or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- don't want to predict that. I think you saw what the majority leader had to say yesterday. I don't -- can't add to what he's already said publicly.
Q: If the CBO scoring matches your own analysis of your own plan and ends up $100 billion short, then you haven't met the tests either, so why not offer another budget if you're going to demand the Republicans do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if they -- I can't predict that after consultations between -- I mean, first of all, the assumption then that you're making is that the Republican side would accept the President's proposal and use that as the basis for a final agreement, since the agreement -- well, the continuing resolution requires that the agreement between the President and Congress be scored according to CBO's estimates as -- after consultations with the OMB. So let's assume, for your -- sake of your question, that the Republican majority has accepted the President's proposal as the basis for the final agreement, and that it is then -- consultations occur, as they must, between OMB and CBO and outside experts, as the continuing resolution requires, they look at it, they adjust all the assumptions, and they still end up with -- short in 2002 on the balanced budget.
What do you do then? You have to make some adjustments, of course. But that would -- so that would be an encouraging position to be in. We would love to be in that position by Friday, if that's -- in fact, I'll make the offer right now. If the Republican majority wishes to come forward with the President's seven-year plan on Friday, we would be willing to begin immediate consultations between the OMB and the CBO to evaluate that as -- with the understanding that is the final agreement. We'll make that offer right now. I'm not supposed to negotiate, but I just --
Q: If the Republicans put out a plan, then does that mean --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just going to make that offer flat out, you know. Leon Panetta, move out of the way.
Q: If the Republicans then put out a plan, does that mean that you're -- you'd take their plan as a basis?
MR. MCCURRY: It would suffice to say, I think, that I doubt that's going to happen. I'm sorry. You still want to keep running this string out. What's going on? You're not going to get anywhere with that. Let's go on.
Q: Let's go to Whitewater. Why has the President changed his mind and decided to not adhere to his thought that he wanted to be open and not claim executive or any other kind of privilege.
MR. MCCURRY: The President of the United States believes that he has the right to have a confidential conversation with his attorney, just like he has the right to have a consultation with a doctor or minister, someone else. He is entitled to the services of a private attorney. And that is what is now being jeopardized by the effort by the committee to intrude into the attorney/client relationship.
They are now -- we -- the President has offered to make available every person participating in a meeting that the Senate committee is interested in, is willing to let them testify about they knew going into that meeting. He is willing to listen -- willing to have them testify about what they did going out of that meeting. But during the course of that meeting, attorneys who serve the President, and who the President ought to have the right to expect will keep confidences related to the legal work that they're doing, had discussions that the President believes are protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Now, if he should -- if he waived that privilege for this discussion, there's absolutely no question, as the White House -- or as the President's law firm indicated yesterday in the materials that they submitted to the committee, that if there was --that if we allowed that single intrusion into the privilege, that adversaries would then, obviously, demand more. They would argue that there had been a waiver of the privilege with respect to all the communications on the same subject matter and with those same legal counsel representing the President, and there can be no doubt that various investigators would move very quickly to try to require the disclosure of all communications, all notes, all matters that have been discussed within the personal relationship that would exist between the President and his attorneys.
The President believes this is a matter -- he's not willing to do this also as a matter of historic precedent. He is not willing, as President of the United States, to waive his privilege, his right to have representation by an attorney, and thus set a precedent that might affect future presidents. If that's going to happen, the President believes it ought to be decided by a court, it ought to be decided by the other branch of government that's not a party to this dispute.
Q: He said, and Lloyd Cutler said on four separate occasions, in effect, that openness on this subject was more important than privilege in his view of the needs of the American people. What's made him change his mind, what's made Lloyd Cutler change his mind in the last four months?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't speak for Lloyd Cutler, but the President said, as your newspaper quoted him today
Q: Well, Lloyd Cutler spoke for you.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the President said, as your newspaper quoted today, that he could not imagine a circumstance in which it would be impossible to comply with the request of the committee to provide information. The President has done so. The President has provided tens of thousands of pages of material. He has encouraged scores of White House aides to testify before this committee. And he never foresaw a circumstance in which that would not be enough for this committee, that they would want to go to the heart of his right to have representation by a private attorney. That was -- it was inconceivable that type of request would be made by a committee because most Americans understand that people have a right to have confidential discussions with an attorney.
Q: The question most Americans are asking is: Is the President hiding something?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's clear the President, as most Americans also know, this matter has gone on for quite some time. There have been over 30 days of hearings, when we've had how many hours of hearings on cutting Medicare? Not many. They've spent $20 million in pursuit of the President, and they haven't turned up anything yet. And we've turned over boxes upon boxes of materials, and we've turned over pages and pages of transcripts, and countless White House aides have subjected themselves to testimony and questioning by members of Congress. So most Americans know all that. They watched all that on television. And they're saying, "There's not a whole lot there." Because there is not anything there.
Q: That doesn't answer the question.
Q: Are you familiar with the contents of the meeting in question? Can you assure us that there's nothing that occurred at that meeting there that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, obviously not because then that would -- that goes to the heart of the argument that the President has made. That would have purloined and compromised the right to privilege. But I'm not an attorney, and I wasn't working for the President in a legal capacity, so I was not at that meeting. No one else was in that --
Q: The White House Legal Counsels aren't working for the President either.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not true. Of course they are.
Q: They work for the United States government, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Listen, I would suggest they work, as our filing indicated yesterday -- and if you have not read it you should because it doesn't sound like you have -- they -- there is a blend of responsibilities between those lawyers that work for the Office of the President in their official capacity and those who represent the President in a private capacity. This meeting was for those who worked for the government, who recognize that the President ought to have the services of a private attorney, to transfer the work that they had done to the private attorney, because the White House and the President had determined that the President should not have government attorneys doing this work.
So this was a meeting where they transferred that material to these private attorneys. And if that's not covered by the privilege, I can't imagine what should be covered by privilege. So I would suggest that what we've set forth in the document that we filed with the committee yesterday and which Williams & Connolly separately filed with the committee is a complete rendition of this argument; it's available and you ought to read it.
Q: The fact that you claim attorney-client privilege followed by maybe you'll claim executive privilege, does not that suggest that you don't think it's attorney-client privilege has any -- has a good chance of standing up in court?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they -- it's clear from -- it's clear that we believe that this matter is heading to the courts. Indeed, the President believes if there's a waiving of the privilege, it ought to be done by a court because he believes he, as the Executive Branch should not waive for future Presidents that right to have the services of a private attorney, which is what this is all about.
It would be very hard for future Presidents of the United States to have personal representation by a lawyer if the president created the precedent of waiving the privilege. Because once it's waived on this subject matter, it's waived for the entire Whitewater matter. That is the opinion of the White House Legal Counsel and the other attorneys who have advised the President on this matter.
So the issue is, if it's going into the courts, the courts will most likely want to test the executive privilege argument as it relates to the government lawyers who were there. That's not what the President has asserted. The President has asserted that his concern about the notes -- and the notes the President believes are not consequential -- it's the meeting itself involving the private attorney that's consequential and it's his right to have the services of a private attorney that are at stake. And once intruded upon, you can't go back in that relationship, as our document argues.
Q: You said the notes are not consequential?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't believe the notes are consequential.
Q: But can he turn those over without --
MR. MCCURRY: He cannot turn those over because they come from the meeting. And my understanding, as a layperson, not as a lawyer, is that compromises the privilege.
I think it's very important for people, if you're going to write about this, if you're going to look at the argument, to read the submission of the -- the submission the White House made to the Special Senate Committee Regarding Whitewater and Related Matters, dated yesterday, because the very important argument -- I think the American people need to understand what is at stake here. Because it fundamentally is the right of the President, as a citizen of this country, to have the same rights that any citizen of this country has, which is to have a confidential relationship with an attorney providing legal work for the president.
Q: So this is viewed solely as a matter of principle of presidential authority?
MR. MCCURRY: It's seen solely as a matter of the President's right to have a privileged, confidential relationship with his attorney -- his attorneys, plural.
Q: Michael, how do you answer the issue here that among the group of lawyers who were meeting that day, were three -- four -- who were on the government payroll and were attorneys to the government, and if your answer is they were doing private work, isn't that illegal --
MR. MCCURRY: No, because the -- again, I would strongly recommend that you read the --
Q: I did read it, Michael.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the paper because, as it says, in some cases, their own earlier private legal representation of the President, and their knowledge of Whitewater matters as it came to them in connection with their official duties, gave them information that was relevant to the newly-retained -- at that time newly-retained -- private attorney of the President. And thus, under the common interest rule, their discussions ought properly be privileged, even though they are -- their client is in effect the Office of the President -- the presidency itself and not the President as a private individual as represented by his private attorney. But the argument that's set forth in there, I really -- I can't state it any better than it's been stated by those who submitted this document.
Q: So that kind of clause would cover someone such as Lindsey, who wasn't acting per se as a lawyer but as a spokesman?
MR. MCCURRY: No, his capacity in that meeting and the reason for him being in that meeting, as set forth in these documents, is quite clear. It's because he had substantive knowledge that needed to be transferred to the newly-retained attorney that the President had hired to represent him on these matters. And he was there in that capacity, as the document makes clear, not in his capacity as Director of White House Personnel or the other assignments that he had in the White House at the time.
Q: Just a quick logistics question on tonight. Does the President plan to make a departure statement of any sort when he heads for Paris tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: At this moment we do not plan one because it's not certain that there will be congressional action on Bosnia at that point. We hope there will be. If there is, we might, in fact, see if we can do a departure statement. But our -- what we are hearing currently about debate is that they probably are not going to be completed -- they probably will not have completed congressional consideration by the time of his departure.
Q: Speaking of Bosnia, what do you think of the resolution that would support the U.S. troops but oppose the mission? What is the position on that?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll take it -- we'll take it if we can get it. The President would prefer that after closely looking at the facts that the Congress endorse the mission, endorse the deployment and support the troops. But if it's a question of supporting the troops and being grudging in the support of the mission, we understand that, the President will accept that judgment. The important thing is that is, in the President's view, a statement of support that it allows the deployment of the forces to continue so they can begin the necessary work of securing the peace that the parties themselves will finalize tomorrow.
Q: The reaction to the good new of the Senate vote to cut off --
MR. MCCURRY: The White House was very gratified at what was a very strong vote against shutting off funding for the deployment. In a sense, because the President has the constitutional responsibility as Commander-In-Chief and the Congress has the power of the purse through appropriations, that was probably the strongest statement of support they could possibly make. And having voted overwhelmingly not to shut off funding is in a sense a verdict on the President's judgment.
Q: Is there a decision on securities litigation? Is there a chance we'll get that before he goes to Paris?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of a decision. I'm not expecting anything prior to his departure.
Q: Anything new today on a possible successor to Hazel O'Leary? (Laughter.) It's in The Washington Times article, sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: We are in the twilight zone. That question is from so far in left field it's not answerable.
Q: If the CBO as expected puts out the details of its scoring of Clinton's plan this afternoon, are you going to react with a statement, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Given what I understand about scoring a document, we are not -- that's probably not going to be what we would consider a full scoring of the proposal. That's more and more likely just an estimate. And we've -- I think I've just reacted to a lot of that.
Q: You don't think there will be thorough --
MR. MCCURRY: We would be encouraged if they found a FY -- or a 2002 year budget deficit in the neighborhood of $100 billion. That would be encouraging to us. That would be less than half of their earlier estimate of the President's ten year plan and show how dramatically the CBO estimates have now moved. But what we would really like to see is a more complete --
Q: How does $100 billion get to be less than half --
MR. MCCURRY: We would like to see a more complete scoring of the document along the lines of the specifications and legislative language that we've said. And that -- my understanding is that might take additional time.
Q: Michael, I don't understand your math. I thought CBO's original estimate, or the Republican original estimate was that there was a $400-billion difference --
MR. MCCURRY: Their estimate of the deficit in the year 2002, if I'm not mistaken, was about $230 billion.
Q: Oh, 2002 -- you're talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: For that year, that estimate is now less than half that.
Q: But you don't know what number corresponds to the $400 -- the previous $400 billion?
MR. MCCURRY: What the accumulated deficit track is I do not know.
Q: It also sounds like you feel that the consultation process with CBO will be exhausted until they refine it to the point of embracing -- assumption?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, for purposes of discussion I kind of made it sound that way. (Laughter.) But in truth, in reality, we think there should be further consultations between the two sides. And we think we make a very powerful argument about why balancing the budget is a good thing for the economy. We are -- that's why we are slightly at the margin -- remember, we're not talking about huge differences here to begin with -- but at the margins we are slightly more optimistic about what a balanced budget will mean.
It's real surprising, you hear the Republicans bang away on the need for a balanced budget as if they invented the idea, and then they're very pessimistic about what that'll do for the economy. The President, who is equally committed to the balanced budget, think's that'll be good for the economy. That's the point we've been trying to make.
Q: And also, even though you think it's a silly idea, the President wouldn't veto any of these little, itty, bitty CRs --
MR. MCCURRY: He wants to keep the government open. If that's the only way to keep the government open, then we'll have to take it. But it just doesn't seem to be sensible at this point.
The President told both the Speaker and the Majority Leader yesterday, look, I am serious about good-faith negotiations that will balance this budget, let's get on with work, let's roll up our sleeves and get the job done. And to the notion that, well, you have to cram that work into the next 48 hours so we won't shut down the government is not a good way to do business.
The Republicans -- they can't -- they haven't been able to do this in the orderly, necessary, customary way of doing business in Congress. They haven't -- probably it's because they haven't had leadership responsibilities for a long time, it's kind of new to them. (Laughter.) Running Congress is something new so they're -- they've had a difficult year. (Laughter.) They haven't been able to do things on time. (Laughter.) They haven't been able to get their budget. They haven't been able to get an appropriations bill done on time. They're out of practice. They haven't been up there for a long time --
Q: Who's the President taking with him to Paris?
MR. MCCURRY: -- so that, having not been able to meet those deadlines, they're now in this crunch where they're trying to figure out how they can keep leverage. And it's just not -- we know -- we went through this just less than a month ago now and it cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. And I think we are -- we get a sense in discussions with Republicans in Congress that a growing number of them, including some who are in leadership positions, don't think it's a very good idea to shut down the government. And it's -- the one person who thinks that might be a way to gain leverage seems to be becoming a little bit isolated.
Q: Like who?
Q: Who's that?
Q: -- President --
MR. MCCURRY: -- because we were done with it.
Q: What about the Paris trip, who's he taking with him and you give us any type of --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Secretary Christopher is there already. There is a ministerial meeting this evening, I believe tonight. Assistant Secretary Holbrooke is with him. They will be meeting with the parties. And then we have got I think a rather small delegation that's going. We've got a list.
Q: Hazel O'Leary? (Laughter.)
Q: But she has to sit in coach. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Off to Paris. I'll see you all Friday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:55 P.M. EST
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/270162