Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
6:10 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Hi. I wanted to appear briefly with my colleagues here and give you a very short update based on the guidance that we just got from the budget principals, who obviously continue their hard work in the Cabinet Room, sleeves rolled up, sheets of paper flying back and forth, and coffee being produced in copious quantities. I'm doing my color since I don't have much substance to report.
Q: How many --
Q: Was it being consumed in copious quantities?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, the Majority Leader, the Speaker, the minority leaders and the others participating agreed that they would work about another hour tonight. They are working through a series of difficult budget issues, but they clearly are very serious about addressing those issues that are on the table. They expect to work about another hour tonight, take a break.
The budget advisors group, which consists of Mr. Panetta, Chairman Domenici, Chairman Kasich, and the two ranking members -- Mr. Sabo and Mr. Exon -- will reconvene on the Hill at approximately 8:00 p.m. or roughly a half hour after they conclude here. They will continue to do the type of work that they did today, working through some of the issues that they're attempting to analyze for the benefit of the principals. And then, according to the President and the others, they expect to reconvene tomorrow as early as possible based on the advice they get from the budget advisors who will meet later this evening. We don't have a time or --
Q: The principals?
MR. MCCURRY: The principals will meet again tomorrow. We don't have a time set, although the preference is to begin as early in the morning as they can based on however late the advisors group works tonight.
That's about all I am afraid I can report at this point. By agreement, we're not going to attempt to summarize any of the substance. As one participant said, we obviously wouldn't be continuing to meet if we thought it was going poorly. But other than that, I don't want to characterize any --
Q: -- no chance that the House or Senate would take up the proposals that they mentioned in --
MR. MCCURRY: I really don't want to speak to that. I think it would be more appropriate for you to direct that to either the Speaker's or the Majority Leader's -- but if you want --
Q: Are there any plans for the --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you know the President's view. The President's view is that it would be good to get the federal government up and running, federal workers back at their desk.
Q: But what about back pay?
Q: But wait a minute, wait a minute. Can we get them to answer the question of whether the House or Senate will take up the issue tonight of --
MR. BLANKLEY: It has to be taken up in the Senate first --
Q: Could you go to the mike?
MR. BLANKLEY: Sure. I like that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Don't get used to it. (Laughter.)
MR. BLANKLEY: It would have to be taken up in the Senate first, and it's not clear whether the Senate Democrats would be supportive. So we have to be checking on that before we can move it --
Q: Why wouldn't they?
Q: They voted for it last time.
Q: Why wouldn't they?
Q: Is this because of the expedited --
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it's not clear. That may be an issue. So we're still checking.
Q: What about the House?
MR. BLANKLEY: It will have to start in the Senate, so we can't get out of the Senate.
Q: But as of now, it is still the plan of the leadership to try to push it through both chambers --
MR. BLANKLEY: We're trying to, but as I said, it would have to start with the Senate. You need unanimous support on both sides of the aisle there.
Q: The Senate is still --
Q: What is it that you would try --
Q: I don't get this --
MR. MCCURRY: Would you guys calm down? One of you at a time will ask a question.
Q: What are you trying to put through tonight in the Senate?
MR. BLANKLEY: What the Speaker mentioned earlier at the photo op, which is to have basically the provision that passed in the Senate last week, which is attached to the Middle East act, that would bring -- designate all government employees essential and would not pay them, but would guarantee their pay once there is a government up and running again, and would also have an expedited procedure rule for the Senate so that we could get whatever agreement we get out of here moved to the Senate with alacrity. And there's some speculation that the Senate Democrats may not want to consent to unanimity on that point.
Q: Do you know what the state of play in the Senate is?
MR. HINE: The Senate is still in session, prepared to deal with it, and Senator Dole may have more to say on the floor once we're done here.
Q: Logistically, Mike, what would you anticipate that will happen at the end of the principals meeting? Would you come out and say something or will they return to the Hill, have --
Q: Yes, what happens in an hour?
MR. MCCURRY: We did not cover that point. We will either provide another brief readout which will not be much different from this readout, or alternatively, have some type of joint statement as we did at the conclusion of the meeting last Friday.
Q: You wouldn't expect an appearance by the principals here?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect an appearance by them here, and I'm not aware of any plans by the Republican leaders or the Democratic leaders to attempt to do any type of readout tonight on meetings or make any type of comment. There obviously -- this is a work in progress, and the work will continue tomorrow.
MR. HALLEY: On the continuing resolution -- I work for Senator Daschle -- when this bill comes up, the Democrats will object because of the fast track procedures that are being attached to it that would affect consideration of any budget bill. But at the same time, we will offer a clean continuing resolution to fully open the government, as we've been trying to do for days. So the one that is being considered by the Republicans, we will object to that because of the expedited procedures that have been attached to it. But we will offer a clean continuing --
Q: Does that mean you won't give unanimous consent tonight to that?
MR. HALLEY: That's correct.
Q: What's wrong with the expedited procedure?
MR. HALLEY: It violates basically most of the procedures of the Senate in terms of amendments and debate, et cetera.
Q: But hold on for a second. Didn't you vote for something just like this before Christmas --
MR. HALLEY: No, that was the Middle East part of it. There's three parts to this thing that's being put --
Q: No, we're talking about just calling all the workers essential. Do you have an objection to that?
Q: That passed last Friday evening.
MR. HALLEY: No. There are three pieces to the thing that are being put together by the Republicans. One is deeming workers to be essential, which we agree with that. Two is the Middle East initiative, which we agree with that. What we will be objecting to is the legislating of expedited procedures to -- that would harm our ability to both amend and debate the budget bill. And so we will object to that vehicle, but then we will offer a clean continuing resolution to open the government.
Q: Well, when you mean a clean continuing resolution do you mean to --
Q: -- what the prospects for that?
Q: Michael, what's the White House position on this legislation with the three parts? Do you support the Senate Democrats or the House --
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated that, earlier today, he wants federal workers back at their desks and working. He wants the services of the government available to the American people. And we understand that there will have to be discussions on Capitol Hill to make that happen quickly. We hope that that will happen as quickly as possible.
Q: In other words, he sides with the Republicans, not the Democrats on this?
MR. MCCURRY: No. In other words, I very artfully ducked the question. (Laughter.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just point out that the provision that apparently the Senate Democrats are going to block is the same expedited procedure that you have on a reconciliation bill. And, obviously, their concern would be that they wouldn't -- it would get an agreement here that certain Democratic senators might not be able to destroy the agreement by a filibuster on the floor after the members here have worked it out. So there's -- that's a procedural question.
Q: Tony, the Speaker is still against a clean CR, is that not correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Listen, I want John to do -- and this is -- our purpose here is -- my colleagues are here to give you an update on the meeting that's going on here. I think if they want to talk about the procedural issues, which are important, and the rights of individual senators to raise points, which the White House acknowledges is a very important part of the procedure on Capitol Hill, they should really brief you up on Capitol Hill about those procedures.
Q: But he has the right of rebuttal.
MR. HALLEY: Yes, thank you. But to restate, the Democrats, as we've tried to do for weeks, are fully supportive of opening the government and fully supportive of that -- the piece of this, which is to deem workers as essential. And so that's not the issue.
The reason we'd be objecting to this procedural notion is, again, because it would deny the ability to amend and debate fully. And as we did in 1990, there is a way to reestablish a reconciliation bill. As you may recall, in 1990 after the agreement was reached, we did another budget resolution that would then trigger a reconciliation bill under the full procedures of reconciliation. And so that option is open to us. And we felt that, therefore, we did not need to run around completely the entire budget process with something that we'd do this evening.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, anything more on the meeting going on now before we exit?
Q: Yes, Mike. Does the President intend or feel he will need to before Senator Daschle and Senator Exon leave the White House tonight, make the point to them that apparently if everything is so close to reopening the government, they should set aside -- does he intend to have a separate thing with them, saying set aside your objection to this; I really want you to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he has such good working relations with them that I don't think he feels that there's a need to cover that point.
Q: There were briefings on the Hill earlier about the areas that were covered at the budget advisory report, or whatever it's called. Can you say whether the leaders here essentially worked within that framework? Did they go in it or out of it or --
MR. MCCURRY: Based on what I know -- I don't have a complete readout of their entire discussions tonight. They did review some of those issues that the advisers dealt with today. They also moved into what are referred to in their argot now as the tier three issues, which are more difficult issues that are -- where the differences are more fundamental between the sides.
Q: Which one? Medicaid --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not -- we're not authorized to get into the substance of their dialogue.
Q: Mike, can you explain what the benefit would be of this piece of legislation that's having its difficulties this evening? It sounds as though what you're talking about doing is essentially bringing 260,000 people back who then will join a bunch of other people who aren't getting paychecks. They'll all be getting their paychecks, there still will be money for their designated agencies to --
MR. MCCURRY: We would prefer, obviously, any type of continuing resolution that would reopen the government. That's been the President's view all along. We believe the government should be open. We have believed for a long time there should be a clean CR that would do so. But we're dealing, and we have to be realistic about the environment we're dealing with. And these gentlemen can speak better than I can on the attitudes on the Hill.
On the other hand, the effective legislation that would except federal employees who are currently furloughed from the furlough would be to incur a legal obligation to pay them. That legal obligation would be very useful to federal workers that need any type of short-term loan to make mortgage payments or who can produce that as evidence to a creditor that they got the ability to pay bills that are due. I think that would be at least some comfort to federal workers. It would be far better for them to get a paycheck, far better for them to go back to work, far better for them to provide services to the American people. That at least it's something, and something is better than nothing.
Q: So you don't mind if they try to amend -- they block the ability to amend the --
MR. MCCURRY: As I just heard, that -- I could tell from their discussion, that's way over my head. I think there is some work, clearly, that Congress will have to do on this. The President's view he stated very clearly earlier; he would like to see those federal workers back to work as quickly as possible.
Q: Any guidance beyond talks tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have anything for the days beyond that or what time they might finish tomorrow, or would they finish in time for various people to make travel plans. I don't have any guidance on that.
Q: How are you going to let us know, Mike, if they're going to meet and what time in the morning? All-call or --
MR. MCCURRY: We will do an all-call tomorrow and also put in on the recording as soon as we know what the time is. But I would check in here. I think the President still plans to do the radio address live tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., so you will -- at least at that point --
Q: Live from the talks?
Q: You wouldn't expect it before the radio address, would you, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, let me amend that. Just in case they want to start earlier, if they end up deciding they want to start earlier, there's some chance that we might have to pretape the radio address earlier in the morning. So check here tomorrow morning.
Q: What is it going to be on?
Q: If Senator Dole give the rebuttal, will he do that live --
Q: Pass the mike around the table.
Q: Is he going to do that from here?
MR. HINE: I think we're operating under the same conditions that Mike on that. It's entirely possible --
Q: Mike, just to clarify -- you're not suggesting that this measure that's being conducted this evening would restore the government to full functioning.
MR. MCCURRY: No, it would -- our understanding is it would allow federal workers to return to their work, it would allow them to do certain accepted activity that would be authorized by their individual agencies. That would be some progress. It would allow in some cases, my understanding is, for applications to be processed. For example, one example is it's conceivable to me under this legislation, unless my colleagues disagree, that they might be able to begin issuing passports again for people who wish to travel, just as one example.
Now, that's an activity that doesn't incur any additional obligation to spend money on the part of the government, but it allows some measure of government services to be restored to the American people. And that would be better than nothing, as I said earlier.
Q: Can you open the national parks under this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know the answer.
Q: Sometime this evening could you get us a reaction to -- the President's reaction to the Senate Democrats stopping that process that you just outlined?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I commented on that already. They didn't say they were stopping it --
MR. HALLEY: We're not. We're --
MR. MCCURRY: They've got a plan to reopen the government by a clean continuing resolution, which is something, as you know, the President is strongly supportive of.
Q: What's the chance of getting a clean CR?
Q: Do you have any idea what the mood is in the room?
MR. MCCURRY: Unless my colleagues would dispute this characterization, they clearly are very serious in purpose. As I said, many of them have their coats off, they've got their sleeves rolled up, they've got pens out and --
Q: Why didn't they do that before?
MR. MCCURRY: -- they're working very seriously on the relevant issues.
Q: Is the Senate essentially in town?
MR. HINE: Yes, we're in session. We're in recess subject to the call of the chair.
Q: So if there had to be a roll call -- you don't expect a roll-call vote tomorrow, for example? If the majority found it necessary to have a roll-call vote to tamp down the Democrats thinking --
MR. HINE: I'm not certain that that's how events are going to unfold.
Q: Mike, why couldn't all of this have been done Tuesday or Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday or Wednesday -- you mean earlier in this week? The process that was defined by the principals last Friday, a week ago today, called for the staff-level discussions and analysis to begin on Tuesday and Wednesday, which occurred. It clearly was very useful for that to happen because it's been the premise for a lot of the work that occurred today, and that the principals are doing now.
There was an alternative procedure that had been discussed a while back. That was not available to the President or the principals for reasons everyone in this room knows. This is the process that was available. This is the process that at the moment appears to be working.
Q: A question for John, just to clear up the Senate action. Does the Senate action -- say, it happened tonight or tomorrow -- does that have to be by unanimous consent, or can there be a vote on it, which presumably could override the Democrats' objection? And then could the Democrats, say, filibuster to prevent a vote?
MR. HALLEY: No -- I mean, our intent is to -- I mean, you would need consent at this time of day. Again, our intent -- we've tried I'd say 10 times in the last two weeks to pass a continuing resolution that would open the government, and that's our position.
Q: A continuing resolution, not just this deeming measure?
MR. HALLEY: Right.
Q: You're talking about a real, live CR?
MR. HALLEY: Right, a complete opening. A real, live put-people-back-to-work and pay them, and open the agencies.
MR. MCCURRY: This meeting will be over before the briefing ends if we don't move on.
Q: John, can you spell your last name?
MR. HALLEY: H-a-l-l-e-y.
Q: Any idea when you might be able to give us some guidance about Hilton Head?
MR. MCCURRY: It won't be tonight, and it will be late in the day tomorrow. I just don't have any way to give you any guidance.
Q: Can you say how early could these talks -- 7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that will depend entirely on how late Mr. Panetta, the chairman and the congressional group works this evening. I think their intent is to work rather late and that might make the start not at the crack of dawn, but somewhat around mid-morning tomorrow.
Q: At 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: And then I would suspect that the President and the other principals would commence shortly after that. So I don't -- my guess is around mid-morning, but we'll wait and see and give you guidance as we've got it.
Q: Tomorrow the principals meeting would be back here, not at the Capitol?
MR. MCCURRY: It sounded to me like the intent is to meet here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:40 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/270188