Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon to all of you and welcome to the White House for our daily press briefing. You all have blank faces today. (Laughter.) Good, let's keep it that way.
Mr. Blitzer, let's go. Question.
Q: Could you update us on the negotiations for a rescissions compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: They are going on. That's about all I can say in updating you.
Q: How would you assess the prospects of a deal this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say that, as I said yesterday, there have been some productive and fruitful exchanges of views between the White House and the congressional leadership, and that has led us to believe that there's some progress in the discussions and that it should be possible to achieve a serious deficit reduction measure that would move both the Congress and the President together on the path to significant deficit reduction. But it is -- I'd caution you that it's too early to know whether these discussions will lead to any final agreements on a measure that the President would support.
Q: Mike, is this just White House and Republican leadership, or are you drawing the Democratic leadership into this as well?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, before there would be any agreement that the President would be satisfied with we, of course, would want to talk to our friends on the Hill.
Q: Sort of like you did on the budget, you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: Sort of like we would do if we want to get some real work done.
Q: Mike, on the rescission bill, is time becoming a factor? You've only got about three months left in the fiscal year, and even if you have a White House agreement, it's going to take a few days, maybe even --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I am not enough of a budget expert to understand this completely, but I think if you do achieve significant deficit reductions in certain programs, that then affects the baseline from which future program allocations are calculated. So it would over time, even though you're at the end of the fiscal year, nearing the end of the fiscal year, would have measured impact over time and deficit reduction.
Q: Can you still achieve, for instance, $16.4-$16.5 -- is there enough money left in the kitty in this fiscal year from which to --
MR. MCCURRY: To trim that spending to achieve the full -- that's a good -- that's a technical question, and I'll have to take it. I don't know the answer to that.
Q: To follow on what you just said, is the President's budget proposal based on achieving a rescissions package? The Republicans is, and you would have to come up with another $16 billion in their budget if --
MR. MCCURRY: Hang on. Anybody know the answer? I don't know. See if -- maybe we can get it. That's an easy one. Let's see if we can get that answer while we're in progress here.
Q: Senator Dole says that in view of the President's recent moves, would he now support a -- he should not support a balanced budget amendment.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- we saw his letter. (Laughter.) It must have -- what is it, a slow news day on Capitol Hill?
Q: Do you have a response?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we have talked about the President's views on the constitutional amendment to balance the budget are well-known. He doesn't believe it's smart to go writing fiscal policy into a document that's supposed to have some longevity in our republic. And what the President prefers to do is work with Congress to actually balance the budget.
So our answer to Senator Dole is, let's just do it. Let's not talk about a constitutional amendment; let's just -- that's a red herring on the side of this debate. What's more important is the discussion that ought to be occurring front and center right now about making the decisions that would move us towards a balanced budget. And that's doable. Senator Dole, if we hear him correctly, has said, that's within reach. So let's not lose the moment. So we say seize the moment and just do it.
Q: I'm glad I asked that question.
Q: Does the President still have full confidence in Ron Brown in view of the latest revelation that he may have a tax liability in Prince George's County?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: Have there been any further discussions with the Speaker since the return from Halifax about the whole reform --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he and the President would be talking from time to time. That wouldn't be a surprise to anybody.
Q: Have they talked since Halifax?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: They have?
Q: What have they said?
MR. MCCURRY: They talk. They talk as two leaders.
Q: And has the Speaker been down here to do it or --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think they talked by phone. And I think they talked maybe late last night by phone -- short conversation.
Q: Was the Speaker in less of a dudgeon than he was the other day? Or, I mean, have they --
MR. MCCURRY: They talked about the weighty matters of the day, some of which we have discussed here already.
Q: Who initiated the call?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was the Speaker, but I'll double-check that.
Q: Why? Why?
Q: Subject? Subject?
MR. MCCURRY: They just talked about the issues that are underway. I don't know if they talked about the commission more. I think they spent some time talking about the rescissions bill; they spent some time talking about other subjects as well.
Q: Do they have a kind of regular and continuing series of these conversations?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they -- my impression is that they talk fairly often, as you would gather from watching their --
Q: Well, that's news.
Q: That is news.
Q: Yes, it is. We didn't know that. Can you tell us a little bit more about these conversations, how often they occur --
MR. MCCURRY: I think they talk, as you could tell from the chemistry of their encounter recently in a backyard of a senior citizen center in New Hampshire, they have the type of relationship where they can exchange views pretty comfortably.
Q: News to us.
Q: What are you talking, weighty matters of the day -- like the budget, rescissions -- what exactly?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they were talking about budget-related matters. But, obviously, I'm not -- it as a private conversation and that's about all the detail I'm willing to provide.
Q: Has the President expressed to you any news of his intention to speak on the question of affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's fair to say the President feels as if those working on the review have taken a good look at the Adarand decision now; they've got some sense of how that fits together with the parameters of the review that they've been conducting already, and that would indicate to you that we are in the process of wrapping this up. But I have learned from my experience here already not to predict when the President might want to come forth and share the results of that review.
Q: So you have talked to him about it today?
MR. MCCURRY: I have had a discussion with him, yes.
Q: And did he indicate that he wanted to do this soon? Did he give you a time frame?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he -- I think I just gave you a pretty good sense of what his timing is right now.
Q: This week?
Q: Before the trip?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he's -- this week -- when are we leaving? Thursday. We're not doing it tomorrow, I'm pretty certain of that.
Q: Would he do it on the road?
MR. MCCURRY: When I can give you a sense of timing I'll give you a sense of timing. I can't do that now.
Q: Do you have any reaction to the verdict in the AWAC -- the trial, this thing in Oklahoma?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Let's check and see if Justice has done anything on that. I don't have anything on that.
Q: For the purposes of the June 28th deadline, was the President's goal selling more autos and auto parts in Japan, or to Japan? In other words, the reports of a compromise with the Japanese would increase auto parts purchases for cars made in the United States, does that meet your criteria, or do you have to sell cars over there?
MR. MCCURRY: Our goal in these discussions is more openness and free trade and better access to the Japanese market, which would mean that we want to be in a position in which U.S. auto manufacturers are in a better position to sell their products within the Japanese market. That's been the long-stated purpose of the U.S. position in these negotiations.
Q: What is the President doing at the Portland summit next week? Will he be more conciliatory toward the Japanese on trade?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be doing, I think, a briefing tomorrow on that subject. So if I can ask you to come back for that tomorrow, we've got some folks who are going to talk about that tomorrow.
Q: You said this morning that the President had instructed this draft aggressive about --
MR. MCCURRY: I should have said vigorous. That would have been a more appropriate verb.
Q: Can you be more specific about what the administration is doing for him?
Q: On what?
MR. MCCURRY: Dr. Foster -- with the sense that we might get a vote sometime very soon on Dr. Foster, the President wants to make sure that the White House is doing everything we can to help him make the most persuasive case we can make in the Senate, discussing the issue with individual senators and their staffs, reviewing the very impressive record that Dr. Foster compiled in the confirmation hearings, and of course, his personal experience and his background as well, which we think is a very compelling case for his confirmation as the nations' doctor.
Q: Do you feel you have the votes to stop a filibuster?
MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated this morning, we don't know the answer to that. We're certainly going to work hard to try to get those votes.
On the subject -- yesterday I got a couple of questions on the CBO versus the OMB and their conflicting economic assumptions and technical assumptions. Several of you asked me, well, gee, Congress can't do anything but use CBO numbers. That turns out not to be true, just for those of you that didn't know. Congress is under no legal mandate to use CBO economic projections.
In fact, in recent years the practice has been to use sort of a combination of both OMB economic assumptions and technical assessments as well as numbers generated by the CBO. And in this case, since the differences that exist between the sets of assumptions used by the CBO and the OMB are rather slight, we would not believe that that stands as any impediment to reaching some decisions on measures that would actually cut spending and move us towards a balanced budget.
You've all by now probably got Dr. Tyson's statement, which I just want to highlight for you, that cites a survey of 59 economists that was conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, showing that among that group of economists, the projected annual growth in the economy over the 10-year period that we're looking at for the President's balanced budget plan is actually higher than our own estimate, showing that even among this group of fairly reasonable and impressive independent economists there are projections of growth that are certainly in line and in keeping with the assumptions that the President used in developing his budget plan.
Q: Mike, has everybody forgotten the fact that the President, like a man with hand on the Bible, swore by the CBO assumptions in '93 and said that he was using them because he didn't want there to be any mistake about the credibility of the assumptions and so on? Has that all changed now that the Republicans have to --
MR. MCCURRY: No, what's changed, Brit, is two years of the OMB doing a masterful job at doing economic projections. So we've established a track record now that gives the President a great deal of confidence when he uses the OMB numbers, that they are going to represent the best picture of where the economy's headed over the coming decade.
Q: What would compel a Republican majority to use the OMB over the CBO --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when they have in the past it's because as the staff economists up on the Hill look at this, they come to some agreements that this is within the parameters of what we want to look at as the picture we take of the economy when we make budget decisions, and when we begin to score relevant appropriations bills and move forward. As they have in the past, they sometimes say, look, the OMB on the this area may have done a better job than the CBO, or we can agree to combine the different types of estimates that have been done. And that is a reasonable way to proceed when you're trying to get the country's business done.
Q: In the past, though, even though Congress is not required to use CBO figures, if they adopted them in the budget resolution as their framework, they have historically also used them in the budget reconciliation bill. So what makes you think that they will decide to do otherwise?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because I think that -- I think the spirit that's developing a cooperation between the President and the Congress would suggest that they want to get down to the business of actually making decisions that will lead to a balanced budget, and that there's a reasonable way they can come to agreement on what the baseline assumptions are and then move on to doing the hard work, which is actually drafting the measures that will lead the budget into balance.
And that's preferable than to get all diverted off talking about constitutional amendments on a balanced budget or trying to change the subject. We've got -- the President has come forward with a serious proposal now, and we think it's incumbent on Congress to look at it and decide if they want to get serious about this, or not. If they want to go ahead and write appropriations bill based on the House and Senate budget resolutions, they're just going to run straight into a train wreck, and they know that. And they will be the conductors on that train wreck.
Q: Despite the signals emanating from Havana, will the Clinton administration press for Vesco's extradition?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are signals, and we haven't had an opportunity to evaluate them, because there are -- as far as I know, have not been conversations involving the U.S. interest section to verify some things that -- I know there are some news organizations that have got some impressions based on people they've talked to, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Cuban government has made any particular decision on those matters.
And to clean up on the one question I left standing, like the Republicans in developing their budget, the President is counting on $16 billion in savings from the rescissions bill in the draft 10-year budget outline that we've used. And we believe that that is achievable, and we believe that we're going to get that.
Q: I thought -- correct me if I'm wrong, but the $16.4 billion, isn't it a net savings, deficit savings, of only $9 billion, and the $7 billion in spending for Oklahoma City and the earthquake? So we're only talking about a deficit reduction of $9 billion, not $16 billion?
Q: That's your one-year number.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the one-year, and then there's an out-year --
Q: When you say based on the $16 billion, presumably what you mean is that you're getting the future benefits of the changes in policy required.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a five-year number. We'll double -- we'll check.
Q: No, $16 billion is a one-year number.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll need to -- I'll need to check on that, Wolf. I don't know.
Q: I was told that the net deficit savings is $9 billion and the $7 billion was additional spending to pay for the earthquake relief and all of that.
MR. MCCURRY: Give Larry Haas a call right after this briefing, and he will know the answer.
Q: Any movement on CEA and the Fed?
MR. MCCURRY: No movement on those subjects.
Q: Should we expect anything soon?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily.
Q: Have there been any talks with Sinn Fein since they announced plans to pull out of these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Not -- we wouldn't directly be in talks. It would be -- you mean talks between the British government and Sinn Fein? I haven't -- I'd only know about that from having seen either a report on the wires or confirmed in a reporting cable -- nothing that I've seen. I think the posture of both parties in the peace process is as outlined in their public statements.
Q: Can I follow on Paul's question? Is the President planning to do anything to jump-start the Ireland talks again? Apparently, the hang-up is the IRA has not decommissioned its arms. Apparently, everybody agrees with that, and it seems to me there's a stalemate. Is the President planning or thinking he can get involved and get this going again?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe there is momentum sufficient within this process on behalf of both parties that they can make progress not only on decommissioning, but on other issues. And we certainly encourage both parties to do that, and we'll continue to do that. And we'll find the right way to communicate that.
Q: Is his trip contingent on progress?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not.
Q: His position on the conference was that they decommission in advance of, or just part of talking?
MR. MCCURRY: Our view was that they ought to elevate the seriousness of that issue and begin serious discussions on decommissioning of weapons, actual progress on decommissioning, in addition to putting it on the agenda of discussions at a higher level between the two parties.
Q: So do you support the British view that they should decommission before they talk?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not into the substance of the dialogue between them. We're encouraging them to make progress in their talks.
Q: Is there a relationship between the auto parts dispute and the aviation dispute? And can you explain the question that's been raised over the last several hours of the U.S. position in auto parts seems to be calling for managed trade and aviation and not the opposite?
MR. MCCURRY: I've seen some of that. I've some analysis where writers try to construct global theories to explain certain postures. But as our negotiators have made clear, they are applying the letter of U.S. law to the particular trade dispute involved and attempting to negotiate solutions, based on our law and cognizant of what is required of the administration as we effectively administer that law. And it will vary depending on the nature of the dispute, as is clear in looking at civil aviation versus auto/auto parts.
Q: Is there any connection between the two in negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: No. They are negotiated separately as are the 15 agreements that we've reached with the Japanese on trade issues. They've each been negotiated in separate baskets, and they are treated separately. They are sometimes -- involve the same negotiators. And, I guess, in a larger sense what is suggested by some of the analysis is the overall climate for those negotiations is reflected in decisions by the government.
But I would suggest that the climate in this case is one in which we have indicated a willingness to reach an agreement, a desire to negotiate, but a very firm resolve to proceed with sanctions as required under law if we are not able to achieve a satisfactory outcome in the negotiations.
Q: Did you get any judgment about the openness versus the closedness of these fundraisers later?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we've talked about it, and we're going to open them in a way that's very consistent with what's been done in previous quadrennial cycles.
Q: What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It means the pool comes in, takes pictures, gets to hear some of the remarks, but the whole event itself is not open.
Q: What has been difficult to gauge is exactly what criteria you're using in these negotiations with the Japanese in order to get the kind of settlement you want because you're denying the Japanese assertion that you're looking for quantitative results, quotas, managed trade, et cetera. If and when a deal is reached, how can anyone really tell whether it's satisfactory or unsatisfactory since you apparently haven't put out front before the settlement exactly what you're looking for?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a question I've heard Ambassador Kantor address in some detail, and he's much better at it than I am. So I'll defer to the public remarks that he's made on that subject.
Q: Do you have any idea when the President will formally announce his reelection?
MR. MCCURRY: At the time that he feels is appropriate, and I have no idea when that might be. As I told you yesterday -- look, he can't have been clearer in saying over and over again that he would like to try to continue to work on the business of the country before he gets overly obsessed with reelection politics, and the later that he could make that happen the better in his opinion.
So I would suggest it will be a while before we staff up an apparatus that is going to do -- the one thing we know, however effectively it performs, the one thing we know for certain is it will cost money. And the later we wait in spending money on the campaign the better off we're going to be. So that's why our focus now is on a staff and an apparatus that is attempting to raise money for the President's reelection effort, and they're doing pretty well at it.
Q: Is John Dalton going to be on the campaign staff?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Who knows? We'll find out.
Q: What is the latest he could theoretically announce? When would be the latest date that he could theoretically announce?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. At some point you get up to a point where you have to file on certain ballots -- there's a New Hampshire deadline that comes usually toward the end of the year, so presumably in theory that's the latest you can announce. I'll suspect we'll probably do it before then.
Q: Now that the U.N. hostages are free, does the President plan to do anything about the Serb missile sites that shot down Captain O'Grady?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question that's been asked and answered at NATO and elsewhere.
Q: What's the answer?
Q: What's the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: The answer is the one that they've said over and over again. They are working to carry out those enforcement activities that they are pursuing in support of the U.N.. Air strikes in that theater are done consistent with the command and control arrangements that have been worked out between the U.N. and NATO. And air strikes have not been taken off the table as an enforcement activity.
Q: Now that one of the achievements in Bosnia that the President used to cite a lot, which is the weapons exclusion zone, and the unstrangulation of Sarajevo has now been reversed completely, does the President want the rapid reaction force to restore that to its previous status or is he willing to accept it the way it is?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a view of the -- mission responsibilities of the RRF that is consistent with what the commanders on the ground have articulated publicly.
Q: But they haven't articulated that they're not going to --
MR. MCCURRY: They have made themselves very clear on that subject.
Q: The President said last week that he expected the rapid reaction force would open Sarajevo. When does he expect that to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall him saying that.
Q: In the news conference --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll have to go back -- I don't remember him saying that at all. I'll have to go back and look at the transcript.
Q: Mike, can I follow Todd's question on the openness of these speeches? When you say pool, do you mean they go in and take a photo, like normally, and will we get to hear the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: However they do pool arrangements. You can -- we'll work that out as we normally do those things.
END 1:43 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270037