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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

July 21, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:20 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to start here with a couple of items on my agenda before we move to yours.

First, the rescissions bill has passed, as you know. We'll have a written statement shortly from the President, but in it the President will say that the rescission bill that the Senate has approved is an example of how Congress and the President can work together to get the business of the nation done. We've been able with this vote today to produce a good piece of legislation.

The President, as you know, from the start of the rescission process, agreed with Congress on the need to cut spending. The issue was how are you going to do it. He vetoed the original rescissions bill because it would have cut spending the wrong way by targeting education and training, environmental protection and other key national priorities. In working with Congress, the Congress has now restored some of the funding that the President felt was critical and the President is pleased that bipartisan leaders of Congress worked with him to produce a good bill. It's a good example, once again, of how this President can work with this Congress to do the business of the nation.

Secondly, you'll recall back as part of our reinventing government effort on March 4, the President ordered individual Cabinet agencies to submit to the White House a comprehensive list of federal regulations that they intend to cut as part of the REGO effort. Today we are releasing -- the agencies then submitted in early June to the administration those listings of regulations, and today we are releasing the first four of the eventually 28 agencies specific reports on regulatory reform that identity those areas in which the federal government will bring more common sense into its regulatory approaches.

I think the important point to make here is that while Congress is talking about the job of regulatory reform, this administration and this White House have actually been doing the job, and we've been demonstrating that you can do it the right way by applying common sense tests and standards rather than very arbitrary and sometimes special interest-laden approaches that end up with the wrong results that don't protect the interests of the American people.

You will recall back when the President and the Vice President addressed this, they announced 16,000 pages of the Code of Federal Regulations that are now no more, streamlining regulations for an additional 31,000 pages. What they're talking about today will really further the effort to reduce the regulatory burden that Americans face and bring, as I say, more practical approaches into the functioning of the federal government.

Today's reports specify proposed regulatory cuts of four regulatory agencies -- the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Finance Board, and the Small Business Administration.

Just a couple of examples to give you some sense of what they're doing or the scope of what they're doing -- the Small Business Administration will cut or reduce 11 of its regularly required reports, and by the end of the year they will have eliminated 51 percent of their portion of the pages of the Code of Federal Regulations. At HUD they will have eliminated 2,800 pages of regulation which is roughly 65 percent of the HUD-related pages within the CFR. And the Education Department will eliminate roughly 30 percent of its required regulation.

Now, this is the serious work of regulatory reform that can be done when an administration approaches it the right way. And we would suggest to the United States Congress that is engaged in a lot of efforts now to just arbitrarily lop off regulatory approaches,that this White House and this President can do a job and do it to the satisfaction of the American people.

Each of those agencies are putting out releases right now that have got more detail, more specifics on the areas they're addressing and some of the efforts they're going to make as they specify the regulations that they'll go after as part of this regulatory reform effort.

Q: While you're on the subject of Congress, could you talk about the House Appropriations agriculture bill which would make changes in food stamps and cap WIC?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think on that is they're in the process of doing the bill now, but as we said before, the committee bill as it went to the House undermines the essential nature of the food stamp program, its ability to respond to increased need during times of economic downturn, which has been a source of very real concern to us. Over the last five years, the committee has been able to produce a cushion amount in the food stamp program, and all of that will now be jeopardized as a result of some of the benefit cuts that the House is looking at and it's a source of very real concern to the administration.

On WIC, under the committee's proposals, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program would be funded at $260 million, which is okay, but it's $90 million below the request. And while we appreciate the funding, the fact that they don't have full funding in the amount is a source of real concern. And in addition, although they may have made some -- one of the things we're following is the change in the WIC participation rate, the cap on the WIC participation rate. They may have addressed that during the consideration of the bill, which has been one of our specific concerns, so, overall, it's, again, an example of the emerging contest between the administration's priorities in addressing programs of real human need and the effort by the Republican majority to try to add up the math in a balanced budget approach that they have adopted which the President thinks reflects the wrong priorities.

Q: Does that mean a veto, though?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's going to mean a ways to go. There are lots of reasons why this bill, beyond the ones that I've just cited, might generate opposition from the President. But as the Chief of Staff indicated to you not too long ago, at the moment, none of the 13 appropriations bills as they're moving through look acceptable to the President. And the President, as I indicated to some of you earlier today, intends to come back and address this question of budget priorities and how we can build some common ground on a budget approach that will work in a major speech that he will give Monday.

I think the President feels it's very important now to begin to help the American people understand the nature of this very real and very difficult fight on the federal budget that we're about to have. And he will suggest some ways on Monday that we will work with the Republican Congress to define that area of common ground in which we can avoid the crisis that surely is going to happen as we reach the end of the fiscal year and go into a contest over who is going to blink first on shutting down the federal government.

The President wants, again, to say his purpose of coming forward with a 10-year balanced budget plan was to avert exactly that type of crisis, by giving the Congress a road map that would allow him to define priorities that would be acceptable to him, and we think ultimately to Congress as well.

Q: Can you give us the latest on Bosnia?

Q: Can we stay on this for a second?

Q: Which speech? Which speech on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: He is -- do you guys have the week ahead?

Q: -- Texas speech where he laid out his challenges to Congress?

MR. MCCURRY: It wouldn't be dissimilar to -- when he spoke to the newspaper editors he again tried to give a road map to the Congress on how to address a series of issues without provoking vetoes. And the President wants to come back now to his budget proposal and do that once again and say, look, here are ways in which we can define the parameters and the priorities of the federal budget that will work for the American people.

Q: On the issue of taxation, how much will the speech be devoted to that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will address -- it will concentrate on some of the concerns the President does have about tax relief as proposed by the Republican Congress and suggest some of the reasons why tax relief as he has proposed for working middle class families that help them save for education and training opportunities makes more economic sense as we build an economy that can grow into the 21st century.

Q: But do you think that the theme or the message that had been coming out from the administration that the Republicans were just trying to give tax breaks to the rich -- is that argument going to be elevated any more?

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to address that, but I think rather than go back over the very sharp differences that we find in the past, he's going to suggest to the Congress some areas in which we can define a common approach that would work. If you think about what we're trying to accomplish here in the broad sense, the distance between the President and the Congress is not so great that it can't be bridged. The President -- in the larger sense, they both favor balanced budgets, they both favor making some changes in programs that currently work.

On the other hand, there are very sharp differences as to some of the priorities that are reflected. We've got to bridge those gaps. The Congress cannot -- the Congress eventually has to produce something to the President's liking if the country's work is to be done. That's the way our system works. And the President, acknowledging that, is going to suggest some ways that we could move ahead.

Q: How could he do that other than just say that, all right, we agree there needs to be Medicare reform and tax cuts, but let's just make it tax cuts for the middle class and scale back Medicare?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that sounds like I produced sufficient interest for you to tune in to that type of argument on Monday. I'll leave some to the Monday discussion.

Q: How about Bosnia?

Q: -- speech on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to check on that further.

Q: Bosnia.

Q: One more question. He wanted to bridge the gaps when he gave newspaper speech, and now you say the 13 of the appropriations bills are essentially headed toward veto. How successful do you think this will be with this approach?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think --

Q: Why should you have hopes that the Republicans are going to play ball this time?

MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that the congressional Republican leadership understands that they will look bad and he will look bad if we shut this federal government down this fall because we can't reach agreement on the business of the nation, that we reach a point of gridlock or, as someone said, the train wreck. And that doesn't do anybody any good, least of all the American people. And, knowing that, the President believes that the congressional leadership will be responsible enough to come forward and meet him and begin getting on with the serious business of negotiating a budget that will work for the executive branch, for the legislative branch, and for the American people.

Now, if he's wrong about that, that says something, I think, quite troubling about the motives of the majority in Congress.

Q: Well, what exactly is his invitation? To start some kind of budget summit now? What do you mean by negotiations? What does he want them to do with them?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what does he -- look, he wants them to come forward and address this issue of priorities. The President has outlined a series -- in a series of speeches on some of the value components of public life in America, the concerns the American people have as they look forward, as they think about their own lives, as they think about the economy of the 21st century. How are we going to build security into that economy? How are we going to do the things reflected in federal budget priorities that ensure that we are going to have a fast-growing, high income economy in the 21st century.

And the President's very clearly got budget priorities that address those issues and the Congress must come forward and deal with him on that issue if we're going to get on with the business of producing a budget that works.

Q: But are you saying -- is he saying that they have to drop their positions or they just have to start talks with him?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, they've got to write a budget. And they're going to have to talk to him sooner or later. I'm not going to suggest how they negotiate, but they're going to have to get on with the business of having discussions.

Q: Aren't you, in a sense, setting them up for a fall so that you will be offering them things that you know they will refuse so that, come October, when there's a government shutdown you can say, well, we tried?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President put forward a 10-year budget plan that he thinks works for the country. And there is room in that for them, if they want to get serious, to start talking to the President about the ideas that he's put forward.

Q: What about on Bosnia, please?

Q: Mike, when was the last time we had a government shutdown and why all this urgency, concern about a possible government shutdown?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President increasingly, as we see the direction -- we've talked a little bit about one of the appropriations bills a little while ago. The direction these appropriations bills seem to be taking suggest that we're not going to end up with a product that's satisfactory to the President. And the President thinks that --

Q: -- compromise on rescissions bill?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's right. And that's exactly a useful model of how you get this work done. You know, they passed a bill early. It was clear that it was going to be wrong. It was clear that we could get some improvements on the Senate side. It was clear then that the House wouldn't go for it. We ended up in a veto situation. We got the veto. We got down to negotiating, and we've produced a bill. It was rather late in the game.

But, finally, today we've got a product that will achieve real cuts in spending that the American people deserve and it's a useful model if you think about what lies ahead in the budget. So the President is saying, let's get this -- get on with this sooner rather than later.

Q: So come October, if he doesn't like what they produce, he's going to veto everything they send down here and shut the government down? Is that the threat you're making --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we could -- the Chief of Staff has indicated that. The President wants to avoid that, but it could come down to that, yes.

Q: But, as you know, in the past whenever the government shuts down for a day or two, then they agree to a continuing resolution and then, inevitably, somewhere down the line, a budget summit is called and they do that --

MR. MCCURRY: Right. I know. And we go through it, and the point that the President makes is, everybody looks lousy in that process. The normal functioning,the work of the federal government is disrupted. The threats to timely delivery of benefits checks that American people need is always there. You know, it's crummy. It's the kind of thing that the American people hate about Washington when they see their elected leaders behaving in that fashion.

And the point the President has been trying to make is, let's not reach that point of crisis. Let's get on with the business that we all know -- you're right. You just asked the question in the sense that says, oh, we all know what this game is. We've seen this game played before. And what the President said is, let's get on with it and do it now so we don't have to go through this very disruptive process that puts in jeopardy the normal functioning of government.

Q: A status report on Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: A status report on Bosnia. I don't have any -- one more on the budget. You've got five minutes left in this briefing.

Q: Is the President likely to suggest that Congress stay in session for at least part of August to get the train wreck out of the way earlier rather than later, so that negotiations would have more time in September?

MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated his willingness in the past to stay here if necessary in August if Congress is doing that type of work that's necessary to get on with producing a federal budget -- and it requires staying here in August, the President is willing to stay here in August.

Q: Will he make that point on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll listen to him on Monday. We'll be glad to answer that Monday.

Q: Bosnia.

MR. MCCURRY: On Bosnia, let me just run through where we are now. The reports are very encouraging from our team in London, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, General Shalikashvili. They've made good progress in the last several hours. Our understanding is that -- and I'm looking up on a TV monitor way in the back and I think I see Foreign Secretary Rifkind, who might even be making an announcement now about where they are. But our view is that they are likely to emerge with a document that reflects some consensus as a result of the discussions today. When I checked they were not there yet, but it may be changing momentarily here.

And we'll be leaving it up to Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, General Shalikashvili and those who participated in the negotiations in London to brief and provide further information about the discussions there. I foresee in the coming days that we're going to be having some more deliberations here. My understanding is there are probably some additional diplomacy that will result through the work of the conference today that will require some follow-up work over this coming weekend.

At some point over the weekend, if the President feels comfortable with the progress we've made on this, he may choose to address the subject of Bosnia; maybe even in the Saturday radio address tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see.

Q: But not today? You don't anticipate --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate anything further today based on our understanding that there needs to be some follow-up work done quietly and deliberately and carefully, based on the decisions made by the political leadership today.

Understand that this was a conference in which the political civilian leadership of these nations have had a good discussion, worked on some issues, and our belief is now there should be some follow-up work done by military planners related to the work that was done today.

Q: How long will it take, this follow-up work?

MR. MCCURRY: It will take -- well, there's a meeting of the North Atlantic Council scheduled tomorrow. Our best guess is there will probably be additional meetings of the North Atlantic Council into early next week.

Q: Can you confirm that some version of the U.S. proposal was adopted today?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not making any announcements about that. It's appropriate for the British Foreign -- my understanding is the British Foreign and Defense Secretaries are going to be speaking on behalf of the conference in London. And our team will then be making announcements accordingly.

Q: Are you talking about a major television address or radio address?

MR. MCCURRY: No. As I just said, the venue that might be available tomorrow would be the radio address.

Q: -- see the President this weekend, Mike?

Q: So it's not the kind of thing where he wants to go on television? The radio address is obviously not something that's going to get a huge audience.

Q: Ohhh.

Q: Apologies to --

MR. MCCURRY: Very strong objection. Very strong objections raised to that statement by your radio colleagues. (Laughter.)

Q: Any comments on the resolution of the air cargo dispute with Japan?

MR. MCCURRY: There was some work being -- I refer that over to Ambassador Kantor. There were some others that were prepared to say some things on that. I saw some details on that earlier, but didn't get enough into it sufficiently. And I think there are others who can speak to it.

Q: Has the President talked to Prime Minister Chretien or anyone else about the deployment of the peacekeepers that are now there? And can you give us a sense of how the President has been working on this issue, who he's been talking to? And has he been getting personal reports over there from the Secretary of State and Defense?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he has been getting a variety of reports from the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State related both to the political and military aspects of the discussions they've had underway. He's been getting good briefings from the National Security Advisor, who has been following the developments in London very, very closely. And, of course, he continues to get briefed on the situation on the ground in Bosnia.

He's had the discussions with other foreign leaders that I've described. And he has been sending back to London some very specific instructions on how certain issues ought to be addressed, in a sense, giving our team out there his best guidance on how he would like to see certain issues resolved. I'd say he's been -- he really cleared the decks so he could work on this and he's had a couple of other things on his calendar today but this issue has occupied a fair amount of his time today.

Q: Are all three -- Perry, Shalikashvili and Christopher -- coming home directly or are they going to stay over?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe they are. I believe -- Secretary Christopher I know arrives tomorrow. I don't know about General Shalikashvili. I don't know whether he plans to go on to Mans or to Brussels to consult with some of the others. General Joulwan, SACEUR, was at the meeting today so he's in a position to reflect some of the military thinking.

Q: Joulwan was in Washington?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he was at the conference in London today.

Q: What contacts have we had and what reaction have we had from Moscow on all this?

MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of State met with Foreign Minister Kozyrev yesterday and had a very good discussion. They were -- the Russian Federation was an important participant in the meetings today. They will describing any further diplomacy that the Russian Federation will be doing as a result of this conference in London. They will certainly address that.

The President sent President Yeltsin a note to review with him the situation in Bosnia to consult with him further. And to my knowledge, we have not had a response back through Embassy Moscow to that. But we're certain, given the conversation between Foreign Minister Kozyrev and Secretary Christopher, that we have good lines of communication open.

Q: When was the note?

MR. MCCURRY: Yesterday. It was a letter that was delivered today by Embassy Moscow.

Q: Have the Russians endorsed the idea of threatening air strikes --

MR. MCCURRY: They should address -- their government will address that issue probably in London would be my guess.

Q: They haven't addressed it yet?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they -- no, not publicly to my knowledge.

Q: Will Christopher come by the White House, or Shali or Perry or anyone this weekend? Any meetings?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not certain at this point. I wouldn't rule that out. That might -- depending on how quickly the Secretaries leave London and how much they can report in prior to their departure, they may or may not drop by here to see the President.

Q: Do you expect any action this weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I expect further -- there will be -- I've made clear and I think they will make clear later, there are further both military discussions and military planning and diplomacy that likely will result from this conference. And that will be ongoing throughout the weekend.

Q: Were you able to find anything out on China and Bush?

MR. MCCURRY: I did. I talked to the President about that. They had a very good discussion. When President Bush was here for the unveiling of his portrait, the President had -- President Clinton had a very specific interest in talking to him about China.

President Clinton is troubled by the current status of Sino-U.S. relations. I think he is very intent on making sure that in an honest and candid way, we address those impediments that exist in the bilateral relationship. And for that reason, he has been consulting with a number of those he considers expert on U.S.-China relations.

He met not long ago with Dr. Henry Kissinger who had just returned from a trip to China. In fact, Alexander Haig, John Whitehead, several others were part of that delegation, I believe --they were here for a visit with the President as well. He has talked to some -- additionally, to Senator Bill Bradley. He had an opportunity to talk to former Secretary Bentsen recently who, as you know, has spent considerable amounts of time in China. And he specifically sought out former President Bush so he could talk about China.

They discussed Bosnia, too. The President was interested in reviewing that problem with him. But they discussed China at some length. They did not discuss any role that former President Bush might play if he indeed makes a trip to the People's Republic sometime shortly. But they did review the current status of the relationship. And President Clinton found President Bush's views helpful, very enlightening, and it was a good discussion all the way around.

Q: Back on Bosnia. You mentioned bilateral diplomacy and you talked about some NAC meetings. But is there -- whatever they produce out of this, does it have to go through the Security Council, any component of it?

MR. MCCURRY: There will have to be follow-up discussions with the United Nations as they relate to command and control issues. But I'll have to leave it, given that they've reviewed a lot of those decisions today. I'm not aware of anything that would require Security Council action, but I think it would be more appropriate for those who participate in discussions today in London to brief on the specific results.

Q: Mike, does the White House know or done any reporting on why Don Tyson and the Stephens family in Arkansas are now backing Bob Dole?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. I mean, they're obviously --people in the State of Arkansas, as elsewhere, are free and entitled to support whoever they choose for President of the United States. President Clinton feels for his part he's got a record that's been good for Arkansas and has been good for the people of Arkansas, and good for those whose commercial enterprises are based in Arkansas.

And I think the fact it's true is reflected that a substantial portion of the 96,000 donors who have now contributed to the Clinton-Core Committee thus far in 1995 come from Arkansas. And the President is confident that he enjoys widespread support in his home state.

Q: Did the President call the AMA today and what was it he wanted to talk to them about?

MR. MCCURRY: The President did have a conversation with the AMA today, and I need to find out more about it. I believe the issue was the AMA's recent decision on tobacco or their recent recommendations on tobacco. And the President has an interest in learning about that issue.

The President, by the way, also met yesterday with Governor Hunt and Senator Wendell Ford. Both of them offer, or sought an opportunity to provide some -- wait a minute. Let me take that back. I don't -- do you guys know if the President stopped by that meeting? Let me amend that. I don't know for a fact that the President saw them. I know that they came by. They had a good discussion with Leon Panetta, and my understanding was the President might drop by. But maybe you can check with the press office later on. The President was thinking of dropping by that meeting and I don't know for a fact that he did. So I withdraw that and just say that both Governor Hunt and Senator Ford were here for an opportunity to put some of their views forward on the issue tobacco, health and some of the recent work of the FDA.

So the President clearly now, as he reflects on some recommendations that he's received from his advisers, is seeking more information about initiatives, clearly, a very serious one.

Q: He didn't talk with them about Medicare? They're backing the voucher plan --

MR. MCCURRY: He may have. What we'll do is see if we can't get a little more detail on the call he had today and pass it on.

Q: Is the question of poultry inspection have anything to do with the fact that Dole and his lessening on meat inspection and poultry inspection have anything to do with the Tyson support?

MR. MCCURRY: What a delicious question. (Laughter.) I'm too chicken to answer that question.

Q: Does the White House have any objections if Congress were to hold hearings on the use of military helicopters by White House staffers?

MR. MCCURRY: It would be -- as the GAO just recently reported, absolutely unnecessary to do so because the reporting that we have done on the use of those helicopters is precisely as we've indicated publicly. And I think all of that has been thoroughly reviewed and we put exactly the right information together and provided it and the GAO report has just now confirmed that.

Q: Is it likely the President will use the Tuesday forum on the 30th anniversary of Medicare to blast the Republicans on their proposals on Medicare?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President hasn't been blasting the Republicans recently if you haven't noticed. He's been suggesting to them, look, we have got to get down to the business of finding some common ground here so that we get on with the business of the country. Now, he's got some very strong disagreements with what they want to do. They want to cut benefits to Medicare recipients so that they can pay for a goofy tax cut idea that gives all the money to the rich.

Now, the President -- the President is a lot kinder and gentler than I am. And he also -- unlike me, he understands that at the end of the day he has got to work with them to come up with a way to define some territory where they can agree. But I -- and he's going to set out some areas in which there clearly are some differences and why his 10 year plan is preferable. His plan -- he put a lot of work in to the issue of the federal budget and how you define those budget priorities. And he wants to talk about it. He wants the American people to understand why he believes there's a consensus that's reflected in that proposal that we made.

Now, we would acknowledge that its been roundly ignored by this Congress. I mean, surprise. But I think that he believes if he turns his attention back to that budget proposal, helps the American people focus in on it and helps them learn more about it that he -- they're going to find, look, the approach that Clinton has defined makes a lot of sense. We're nervous about what the Republicans on Capital Hill are doing, the American people seem to be saying, and we think that this approach that Clinton has defined makes some sense. And if we can turn the heat up on our proposal by talking about it a lot more, maybe we can turn the heat on Congress to take a look at it more carefully.

Q: In addition to turning the heat up, would he also turn the heat up on their ideas for Medicare vouchers and the impact on beneficiaries that their $270 billion in Medicare savings would have?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I missed that. Someone handed me a --

Q: In addition to focusing on your own plan, would you not also be pointing out the Medicare voucher impact --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we know that the Speaker in particular has addressed the idea of vouchers and the President may or may not -- I don't know substantively in detail whether he's going to get into vouchers or not. But I know you're interested in vouchers now, so I will religiously search for more information on that.

I've got to cut myself off. Did you guys figure out the venue for the speech on Monday that I keep promoting?

It is the Boys Nation speech? Okay. So when he does the Boys Nation event he's going to do those budget remarks on that and you see that reflected on the week ahead.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:56 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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