Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to a contingent from the U.S. State Department that is here greeting our briefing room today. I believe some interns, it looks like, for the State Department. Anyhow, ladies and gentlemen, do you have any questions that you'd like to pose to the President's Press Secretary today?
Q: Have you gotten any response from the President's letter in terms of delaying the vote on the arms lifting?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not. I am not aware of any response. The President felt it was very important to set forth once again, as we've done from time to time, exactly the arguments why lifting the arms embargo unilaterally at this time is not a good idea. The Secretary of State and I believe Secretary Perry are also on the Hill now making that argument in person to various senators. And we'll have to see where things go out. We haven't seen anything that changes our assessment on what likely will happen today.
Q: Have the allies worked out a new formula for the dual key?
MR. MCCURRY: They worked out an arrangement and a decision in London to alter the dual key, and they're now figuring out how they will do that precisely and what type of changes they're going to make. There are discussions underway in Brussels now on that, and they will be briefing on that in Brussels when they reach those conclusions.
Q: Do you expect that will be today?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule it out, but I believe -- the discussions, we hear, are in session now and it must be getting towards the end of the day there. That might break over until tomorrow. I just haven't heard the latest.
Q: Did BBG go for it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Secretary General of the United Nations will address the Security Council at 4:30 p.m., and we'll await his report eagerly.
Q: Back on the arms embargo -- do you have any reason to believe that you made any progress with either the people who are up there or the kinds of -- the letter that went out? What do you do if you lose, and what's your response here tonight if they vote tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are trying very hard to make a very important argument to many senators who, in a sense, think they are doing something about Bosnia when really they probably are not. They are getting ready to vote to unilaterally lift an arms embargo -- Senators, taking it upon themselves to substitute their judgment for the judgment of the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairmen of the chiefs -- of the military command of the United States.
They will take on the responsibility if we lift this arms embargo unilaterally of telling Bosnian mothers why there's no humanitarian aid for their children, telling President Izetbegovic and the Bosnian government why there are no arms to go with this lifting of the arms embargo that they pass, and, ultimately, they're going to have to face the American people and explain why it is we adopted a measure that took a terrible situation and made it worse. They are about to find the one way to make this tragic conflict much worse. And that's a dreadful mistake, and, frankly, the Bosnian people have suffered for too long under dreadful mistakes made by others.
Q: Are you making inroads on the Hill with that argument? And what will you do after the vote? Will have you a response here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will move to the House of Representatives after this vote. The Senate seems pretty determined to move ahead to lift the arms embargo, and we will try as vigorously as we can to make that argument in the House.
Q: Isn't that the point of this vote, Mike, that the Congress is saying, well, you've had your shot and you're not doing such a good job at it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they clearly think that, but they have yet to offer up anything that represents a better alternative. In fact, as I say, they are going to do the one thing that will take this conflict and make it much, much worse.
Q: Is it clear that that is going to be the final product, the unilateral lifting of the arms embargo at a specific date?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are some senators -- and I heard Senator McCain last night suggest that perhaps there would be some other way of addressing this or maybe delaying the effective date. That -- we'll have a ways to go here before we see what happens next. The House has to consider the measure. The President will have to look carefully to see what is finally adopted by Congress. The President will have to exercise his veto option if he considers that necessary, and then we'll have to see if there's a way of structuring this that doesn't do further damage to the effort to control, limit this conflict and continue to provide necessary relief to keep alive in Bosnia.
Q: The President said, basically, in his letter that the lifting of the embargo also would jeopardize the drive to try to protect the other safe zones, or to get the -- can you explain the Western allies have only picked one spot? I know you've tried to for days, but what is the reason why they won't think that all the places that are left would --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is -- without being more forthcoming than I can be by law, it is military intelligence. It's an assessment of where in the eastern portion of Bosnia the Bosnian Serbs are likely to next concentrate their offensive. And that has been the reason why, among other reasons, that they've focused on the question of Gorazde.
Q: But they've shelled Sarajevo, and Bihac is under attack.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Bihac is under attack, and, as I've suggested before, it's a much different situation. And you know of the events overnight there suggest that that is a conflict that now runs the risk of being a much broader conflict.
Q: But that doesn't answer the question. Why don't they draw a line and say, all safe zones?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have. As I said yesterday to you, they indicated very directly to General Mladic that they are -- by concentrating on the arrangements in place for Gorazde, they were no less concerned about the conditions in the other safe areas. And they made it clear that the United Nations and NATO would stand together to enforce existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and existing decisions of the North Atlantic Council with respect to the other safe areas.
Q: Are there any specific amendments that you are supporting for the embargo? The other day you said there might be some amendments that would make it better. Are there any specific ones that you're --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we want to wait and see. We've had some discussions on the Hill with senators who are seeing if they can make some adjustments in the language of the Dole-Lieberman resolution. I'd prefer just to wait and see how the debate goes up there.
Q: Will you have a written statement tonight after the votes, if it's taken tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see what time it occurs and have some type of response, probably by a written statement.
Q: Mike, what's the latest, do you know, on the military situation in Zepa?
MR. MCCURRY: There are conflicting reports from the Bosnian government, from the Bosnian Serbs, and from the U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo. The best -- we had at one point some contact with the Ukrainian peacekeepers there. We consider their reports to be the most reliable, and they will be relayed to you via the UNPROFOR spokesman in Sarajevo.
Q: Mike, you said this morning that the President was sending this letter because somehow the message had not gotten through. How could that be, after all the times you've made these comments from the podium here and all the other letters he's sent, why hasn't the message gotten through?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I can't speculate for you what is in the mind of a United States senator who would want to support this. I suspect a great deal of frustration. I suspect the desire to think that they can do something by passing this dreadful measure. But in the end, what they will be doing is making a very tragic conflict much worse.
Now, maybe -- I think some senators, in fairness to them, believe that things are so bad that let's try this and see if this won't work. We would suggest that this puts the very lives that they seem to be concerned about in much greater peril because there is no guarantee that there will be any way of getting arms to the Muslims in a fashion quick enough that they can repel what is likely going to be an even more strenuous Bosnian Serb offensive, and the Bosnian Serbs will rush to take advantage of the disparity that exists in the quality of the arms available on both sides. And it just will be more mindless, endless slaughter.
Q: But it's the very thing that the Bosnian government officials themselves are calling for.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, their frustration is understandable, too. But they also believe that we will make good on the promise. They don't believe that the United States of America would stand up and say we're lifting this arms embargo and then walk away from the situation and not make those very arms available.
Q: That's what you think Dole intends to do?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I think it's a fair question of the Majority Leader, having passed this measure, will you now go to the American taxpayers and explain why we need to provide the armament, the weaponry, and the funding for the training necessary to carry out this measure. I haven't heard him address that question.
Q: As you pointed out, the Senate vote is not going to be the final word on getting the arms embargo lifted. That's going to be months away, even despite today's Senate vote. But how would you see today's Senate vote as damaging this administration's credibility on handling --
MR. MCCURRY: This administration's credibility is for you to judge and for others to judge. We are doing what we can to address this question, to put out -- to work with our allies to try to address the conflict there. But I can tell you what our allies are telling us, and they are very concerned about this measure. It is likely going to leave them sooner rather than later to withdraw the U.N. presence in Bosnia that's keeping people alive there at this very moment. And how does that help the situation we would ask the United States Senate, to withdraw both the U.N. peacekeepers and the support structure for the U.N. humanitarian effort in Bosnia? So presumably, if a U.S. senator is concerned about the pictures on television of people, refugees, mothers with their children fleeing safe areas, who's going to take care of them now if the United Nations does not? And yet, the very action they're taking we've been told repeatedly and at the highest levels and within the last 12 hours by our allies will lead to the instant withdrawal of UNPROFOR.
Q: Are you going to be conducting any negotiations after the Senate vote? Will you actually be formally conducting negotiations for compromise with the House, with the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've already begun to shift some of our attention to the House and begin to try to lay some type of ground there for a more successful effort to at least achieve some margin that would protect the President's prerogatives in the event of a veto.
Q: At this point in time isn't it easier for the Republican-controlled Congress to make their argument for this move than it is for the administration, because most Americans agree that the U.N. efforts so far have been impotent?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, most Americans want to keep the United States of America out of this war. This vote for the Dole-Lieberman resolution, a vote to lift unilaterally the U.N. arms embargo on Bosnia, is a vote one way or another to put U.S. ground forces into this conflict because UNPROFOR will withdraw, we will have to assist in getting them out. So those voting for this resolution are voting to put U.S. ground forces into Bosnia.
Q: Mike, following up on that --
MR. MCCURRY: And I believe the American people are pretty clear about what they think about that.
Q: The House Appropriations Committee today voted on a measure that would prevent any expenditure of funds that would deploy ground troops such as ground troops being sent.
MR. MCCURRY: Then they will be caught in the contradiction of their logic, because they will have lifted an arms embargo; the U.N. forces will withdraw; and they will be saying to our allies we will not make good on a solemn promise we've made to our closest European allies. So they will then take -- and all the additional burdens they're taking on with regard to Bosnia, they'll take on a very serious rupture in the North Atlantic Alliance. That threatens security arrangements that cross a continent and cross the Atlantic Ocean. And that's a pretty stupid thing to do when it comes to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. And it's what happens when Congress substitutes its judgment for the people who are constitutionally authorized to carry out the foreign policy of this country.
Q: Mike, are there any plans by the President to actually address the American people on this issue and take it straight to the people?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President, one way or another, is going to have to address this. I think he has been thinking about what the circumstances are in which we would do that. We are working with our allies right now to provide some type of military response to recent Serb aggression if they continue their assault on Gorazde and if they persist in shelling and indiscriminate conflict around the other safe areas. And that, one way or another, would require some type of message by the President. He's been thinking about when he might deliver that.
Q: -- a news conference any time?
MR. MCCURRY: He might.
Q: If the Bosnian Muslims get enough arms from the other Muslim countries or other countries, where is it a given that American arms are going to have to be provided?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the best judgement we have is -- arms just don't sort of appear out of -- magically in the center of downtown Sarajevo. They have to get there. They have to get there through certain land convoy routes. Those are dangerous ways for weapons to pass. They could come up through the Adriatic, through the ports along the Adriatic. There's no guarantee that just because "arms are available in the international arms market" that they are going to get to the Muslims in time to protect them from what would likely be a very determined assault by the Serbs.
And then what's the United States, members of the United States Congress going to say while we watch the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims? They say, well, we didn't think it through. We put the right foot down without thinking where the left foot was going to go. You know, there are consequences to the actions they are about to take in Congress today. And that's what the President tried to address in his letter, and it's what we are desperately trying to get the United States senators to think about in the closing hours of this debate.
Q: Would it be more acceptable to the administration if the Muslim countries or somebody else are able to work out a mechanism to get all those arms in there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if somehow or other in the Islamic world or the OIC can come together and figure out how they are going to together abrogate the U.N. arms embargo, that would require action by the U.N. Security Council. We all know what the disposition of the Security Council would be on that. So I don't know how they could do that. It's a nice theory, but I don't see any way that that could be achieved practically given the disposition of the Security Council and the determination to enforce their resolutions.
Q: Mike, speaking of slaughter of Muslims, it seems to be going on pace in Zepa. And Zepa is a U.N. declare safe haven. There's no indication of any U.N. or allied action to protect it. Should we assume, as your critics say, that you have written off Zepa?
MR. MCCURRY: You can assume that the situation is very dire, and I reported earlier on what our understanding of the situation there is.
Q: On another subject, Mike, the Speaker of the House today, this morning, said that he is not convinced that Vince Foster's death was a suicide. And he said that the congressional hearings had established a number of people around here who were polluting in one way or another, as he put it, to try to avoid a clear, effective investigation of Foster's death.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I understand. I've heard from the Speaker's press secretary on that subject. I understand that he is putting the stress on the word "convinced" and it was a commentary more on the degree to which the Speaker has been following the current hearings. The Speaker has had a very busy schedule. I don't think he's had time to watch all the evidence gathered that allows him to say sufficiently one way or another that he's convinced of certain aspects of the matter that's under inquiry in the Congress. And I take that representation at face value.
Q: Can you explain to us how you happen to be called by him?
Q: -- what exactly --
MR. MCCURRY: He decided -- Tony Blankley gave me a call and said, look, we just want to make you aware of some things that were said today, and I put the stress on the word "convinced," and here's what I think the Speaker was trying to say. And I suggest that you call him. I'm not in the business of clarifying the Speaker's remarks.
Q: If the language --
MR. MCCURRY: Excuse me.
Q: Did the Speaker's spokesperson retract what the Speaker had said?
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't do that. He was just reaching out so I would understand better the context in which the Speaker made his remarks.
Q: And what is your understanding of that context?
MR. MCCURRY: He's a very available fellow, and I think -- I'm sure he'd be glad to enlighten you.
Q: What is the White House understanding of the context?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that the Speaker was putting the stress on the word "convinced." And he was commenting on the degree to which he's been able to follow the hearings that have been going on on the Hill, given his very busy Speaker -- schedule as Speaker.
Q: Did you try to convince him in any discussion you had with him?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I was happy to have his call.
Q: What does putting the emphasis on the word "convinced" do to the sentence? I'm missing your point. Putting the emphasis on the word "convinced" does what to the meaning of the sentence?
MR. MCCURRY: That he's talking -- that it becomes, in that sense, a commentary on how closely the Speaker's been following the testimony that's been given at the hearings rather than some comment about factual materials that are under investigation.
Q: Are you saying he's not paying attention, that he's -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm telling you what I heard from the very able press secretary to the Speaker. And I am hinting that you might want to give him a call and he'll be glad to enlighten you further.
Q: He went on at some length to indicate that there were a lot of plausible reasons and substantial reasons to believe that there was something more involved here.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- you'll have to refer to the Speaker's press secretary. My guess is that they are --
Q: -- more useful than he thought.
MR. MCCURRY: My guess is that they are under some criticism that there hasn't been much coming out of these hearings, that there hasn't been any news, that they haven't been getting the attention that some thought they would get. And so he was maybe trying to say, well, look, he has found that they had produced some information. But at the same time, I think he was suggesting that he still remains unconvinced about certain aspects of it and that's because he has not necessarily followed the testimony as would a member of the committee. That seems reasonable to me.
Q: But the White House remain convinced that it was a suicide?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we have not -- we know what the facts are and we've said over and over what our understanding is of that.
Q: I have a Medicare question. The President keeps talking about searching for common ground with Republicans on these issues. But today's event seemed like a good, old-fashioned Republican-bashing event. How do you reconcile those two efforts --one, to bash the Republicans at the same time as you're trying to find common ground with them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, there are strong differences between the President's 10-year plan to balance the budget and the seven-year plan that's been put forward by the Republicans. There are costs, real human costs in the Republican budget as it pertains to the elderly and funding for Medicare, and I think, in fairness,the President should point that out. So should members of Congress.
But at the same time there is a broad agreement on the need to have a federal social insurance program that protects the elderly when they face the consequences of sickness and ill health, and that that has been part of the social compact of this country for the 30 years that Medicare has been part of the life of our nation, and that there should be common ground there between Republicans and Democrats in protecting the importance of that system.
This is a radical departure. Vouchers and volunteerism and changing the fundamental nature of the Medicare program is a radical move. And I think the President's suggesting, I mean, come on, you've slipped away here from the common ground that establishes part of the social compact with which Americans support this program, so let's get back into an area in which we agree, make those changes that we need to make.
We're by no means suggesting there shouldn't be changes in Medicare. And the President has put forward in his own budget proposals changes that are necessary, plus changes in the health care system more broadly that would accompany those changes. But let's do that serious work and let's not take a program and really, in one way or another, change its fundamental character forever, particularly when it's worked so well and so effectively to protect the senior citizens of this country.
Q: Does the President share the concerns that we're raised today that the Republicans actually want to dismantle and get rid of this system?
MR. MCCURRY: It, as he said and particularly as it comes to voucher proposals or voluntary proposals -- or I mentioned to some of you earlier the comment that Congressman Armey made that he shutters to think that he would have to be a part of this system -- it's a good thing to be a part of Medicare. It's the universality of this system is what lends the universal support that this program has, and you're disrupting that fundamental social compact with the type of proposals that the Republican majority are now putting forward.
And the reason -- experimenting with the idea of whether or not you can introduce some new elements into the structure in this program is not a bad thing. The President has got some of that in his proposal. But the problem here is that this is being done to solve a mathematical equation that is not solvable. You can't balance the budget, get the tax cuts they want, and the protect the programs that are so important to the American people. And that is what lays the Republicans into this situation that they're in now.
Q: But I still don't think you answered the question, and that is the difference between their proposing major changes and actually trying to dismantle it and get rid of it. That's what we heard today.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the fundamental change that would come as a result of the enormity of the cuts that the Republicans propose -- $270 billion over seven years -- the enormity of that cut plus the changes that they're talking about in the fundamental character of the program would change forever the way Medicare works, and probably change it for the worse. It would not be the kind of program that would protect the elderly Americans when they face sickness and ill health in old age. And I think it's fair to point that out. And it's fair to ask them, invite them to come back to the common ground that the President has been talking about this week so we can get on with the reasonable business of doing what we need to protect the solvency of the Trust Fund, to make the kinds of changes that will help make the program work more effectively, to address fraud and abuse, to make sure that we don't cut unnecessarily programs and protect those who are currently the beneficiaries, as the President's proposals do.
Q: Mike, the President was also surrounded up there by a bunch of Democrats who doubtless would not vote and, in fact, have spoken out sharply against the cost -- the cuts in growth that the President himself proposes. Senator Daschle referred to the Republicans' plan as three times the biggest cuts ever proposed, and they're also about three times the President's proposed cuts in growth if you go back to the seven versus 10. I mean, the President is $124 billion over 10, and they're $270 billion over seven.
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're $124 billion over seven, and they're $270 billion over seven. So we're comparing apples to apples.
Q: In any case, did he express any awkwardness about having to be up there among all these people who were such true believers --
MR. MCCURRY: I did not hear the President express any awkwardness at being there surrounded by allies in the Democratic Party in the Senate and the House, making a vigorous defense of a program that is fundamentally important to Americans. He felt rather comfortable.
Q: Did I miss it --
MR. MCCURRY: But, Todd, your question is a good one because it does point out there are folks there with him today who are troubled by some of the President's proposals. The President moved a long distance in putting forward his 10-year balanced budget proposal. He faced a lot of criticism from some of the people he was there participating in this event with today. But that's a measure of how willing the President is to define this common ground by which the American people can understand the Congress and the President are going to work together to write a budget and to do the business of this country.
And, again, the President is saying to them, that common ground is there for us to stand together on, so come -- get off the extreme position that you are taking and come back into the corral of sensibility so we can get on with the business -- and lasso ourselves a budget -- to continue a very bad metaphor. (Laughter.)
Q: Back on the Dole resolution --
Q: Could I just finish Medicare for a second?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's finish it.
Q: Did I miss it, or what I heard the President do today was lash out at the Republican proposals, but I didn't hear him explain how he hopes to deal with the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, when we put out the President's 10-year balanced budget proposal, we gave you all a two-page thing that walks through all the changes we made, not only in insurance and the health care financing, more broadly defined, but specifically in Medicare. And that extends the solvency of the trust fund from the year 2002 to 2005. That's a big improvement.
Q: That's three years.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a big improvement, and it allows time to look at larger questions of health care reform that would be very important in addressing long-term solvency of the funds. And I -- we've got a proposal out there that makes a lot of sense, that as an earlier question indicated, some Democrats have trouble with, but we think it makes a perfect starting point for a discussion with the Congress on how we're going to get serious about making adjustments that are necessary in health care and in Medicare particularly.
Q: Is that saying that you're hoping to, like, in three years -- say your plan passed -- in 2005, by that time, it would be melded into a whole big health care plan again, health care reform, and then you'd deal with the details?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, I'm not suggesting that directly. I'm saying that we've put forward a series of ideas on how you would begin to make reforms in health care broadly -- insurance reforms, certain market changes introducing managed competition elements, some portability questions, some ways -- new ways of financing. We've put together a lot of different ideas in making good on the President's pledge in the State of the Union and dating back to last December to provide incremental, step-by-step reform.
That will change the dynamics of the health care industry in this country and change the market environment for health care financing. And in that context, you can begin to take a look at longer-range solutions to Medicare financing. And that will be a good project for the second term. We'll be here talking about that in the years to come.
Q: Does the President have before him a proposal --
Q: You're not saying it's political?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course not, it's not political.
Q: Does the President have before him a proposal to declare tobacco a drug? And how does he feel about that?
MR. MCCURRY: He has before him some options that have been developed by those who have been looking at these issues. He's just begun some review of those options, and I suspect it will take some time before he comes to any judgments about how we'll proceed. But there are a series of issues that are both legal and regulatory in nature and, I know, some policy questions about how you address the President's fundamental concern, and that is, to do something about this growing evidence that there is a rise in tobacco use among young people that is threatening their health. He's determined to do something about that. We're looking at the best way to do it, and he'll continue to review options.
Q: Was there any reaction here to reports that tobacco companies actually conducted tests with elementary school children to see how susceptible they would be to tobacco use?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any specific reaction, but there have been numerous news reports based on documents that are now being placed in the public domain that suggest that the concern that the President has about the health effects of tobacco use are very proper concerns.
Q: Mike, does the administration have any information that any tobacco companies other than Philip Morris are currently considered voluntary plans to curb youth smoking?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check on that. I don't know what contact the administration may or may not have had with select companies within the industry. We are aware publicly that some have come forward and announced that they are going to curb certain advertising practices, that they are voluntarily addressing some of the concerns that the President has about tobacco use among younger Americans. And that is, obviously, welcome -- those are welcome developments. By no means does that resolve the issue of what the legal regulatory issues are or policy issues.
Q: Do you suspect that before the President made up his mind that he would try to deal with the tobacco companies directly about what they're --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that, other than to say that anything the industry does that voluntarily addresses this is certainly welcome. But we'll have to see how that affects the discussion that's no underway here at the White House.
Q: Do you have any other consultations with outside people like Governor Hunt? Any other plans to consult outside people?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any at that moment, but I'll keep an eye on that. I haven't seen a -- the question was raised -- Governor Hunt and Senator Ford came in, too. They had asked for an opportunity to present some of their views on the issue. And the question is whether or not we'd have some additional people in. I wouldn't rule that out because I think there's an interest here in understanding the issue better as we initiate the first stages of this discussion.
How long it will take -- somebody will probably ask, when do we think this will be reviewed or how long will it be done. I just don't have any way of knowing at this point.
Q: Weeks, months?
Q: Is one of the options he received --
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't know. I wouldn't suggest months, but I can't pinpoint it any more than that.
Q: Is one of the options to declare it a drug? One of the options on his desk?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a more complicated issue than a yes or no answer to that.
Q: There aren't politics involved in this question, are there?
MR. MCCURRY: You let me get away with that. That's amazing. (Laughter.) Say again.
Q: Politics aren't involved in this question.
MR. MCCURRY: Politics aren't involved?
Q: Yes, I'm afraid you were going to explain it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You have a luncheon appointment or something? (Laughter.)
Q: On the Dole resolution, if that resolution prevails at the end of the day after a veto override, with the language unchanged from the way it is today, is there constitutional grounds for challenging its authority?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not a constitutional lawyer. I don't know the answer to that. In any event, it would most likely be translated in that event into specific requirements in which Congress exercises the power of the purse for enforcement activities or for whatever.
Q: But I thought they have already done that. Aren't we not enforcing it -- spending any money to enforce it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, by act of Congress, we have curbed certain assistance activities connected to the enforcement in allowing some -- there's a waiver that allows some participation in some types of activities. I looked into that the other day since it came up, and it was more complicated than I could understand in the short time I had available to look at it.
Q: Mike, in his speech today, the President laid out several scenarios of old folks who, under the Republican plan, would exhaust their resources, private and public, to get care and, therefore, would be denied care because of higher premiums, the way the vouchers would be inadequate and so on. And he does specifically mention denial of care as the end result of this. But isn't it true that under -- if you posit these scenarios, if you don't have the resources as an elderly person, then you simply go on over into Medicaid. Isn't it more a question of overloading Medicaid under these assumptions than denying care?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that the issue is -- admittedly, in cases, if you carry the logic of the Republican suggestions to their extreme and if you take the funding that they suggest is going to be available, that some of these procedures then would no longer be compensated. There wouldn't be a benefit that would allow compensation for those types of procedures. Now, those individuals might not necessarily fall into indigency and thus be eligible for Medicaid. That would be the right answer.
I have Chris Jennings, the Special Assistant to the President for Health Policy, here in case some of you want to follow up more specifically on this.
Q: The President says they wouldn't have --
MR. MCCURRY: In other words, you might not be eligible for Medicaid, but you might be denied a procedure that you need for your own health under the kinds of cuts that would be presented through the combination of the massive cuts in funding and the application of the voucher.
Q: But if you exhausted your private funds, wouldn't you still be eligible for Medicaid?
MR. MCCURRY: Like it's sometimes the case now if you spend down or spend away all your assets. This has been a problem that we've tried to address for some time anyhow -- if there are a lot of elderly who have to spend down all their assets in order to qualify for Medicaid because they can't afford additional coverage or coverage that supplements Medicare that is a problem. I guess in that sense, yes, that's probably conceivable that that could happen. But that takes time. There are many people -- the people who we've got anecdotal information about people who fall into that type of category and they do that over some course of time as they see no other recourse available to them.
Q: Would the Clintons welcome an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to be able to tell the Whitewater panel what her concerns were about the security of White House documents at the time of Vince Foster's death?
MR. MCCURRY: I understand Senator D'Amato had something to say about that today and I don't have any further information on it. The President and Mrs. Clinton have indicated their willingness to cooperate with both the Independent Counsel and the committees that are reviewing this matter.
Q: Can you talk about the next couple of speeches in the budget series and how the rescission signing fits into that?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you need that for broadcast purposes?
Q: No, I'm not talking about -- I know when these speeches are. I'm talking about how he plans to continue mounting this attack and --
MR. MCCURRY: I've done that in the last couple of days, but I'm happy to do it again. He sees, starting with Monday -- you're objecting to me doing this one more time?
Q: No, no. I'm just getting ready to settle back in my seat to really enjoy it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Settle back and enjoy it.
MR. MCCURRY: I know, be careful with it.
Let me just start with tomorrow. Tomorrow the President's going to talk to the White House Community Empowerment Conference. And the President, Vice President, a bunch of administration folks -- Secretaries Glickman, Brown, Cisneros, some of the 15 community leaders from the 15 empowerment zones are going to be together and they're going to talk about --
Q: You see that as a major --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this is an opportunity to talk about how you, in the wake of both the affirmative action speech that he gave last week and some of the budget decisions that are now pending, talk about what we're going to do to revitalize life in communities that face economic distress.
I mean, there's a combination of strategies that you can employ from investing in the future of these communities and simultaneously making sure that you preserve protections for equal employment and justice, and you apply some of the aspects of our affirmative action report that were, frankly -- a lot of people didn't pick up on. That was -- one of the new things that were covered in the report itself is the way you could target some of this assistance. I think he'll address that subject at some greater length tomorrow, and that ties in to the argument about what type of resources are going to be available for these communities that are in distress that need to nurture more opportunities for their citizens. And that's, again, defining, as he has been, what we would refer to as common ground in which Republicans and Democrats have had some agreement.
You've seen comments from former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp in recent days about the issue of race. He, as you will recall, is one of the, I think, originators of the enterprise zone-empowerment zone concept.
Q: Do you have some information on this private fundraiser tonight? Are there a series of these going on?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a Clinton-Gore dinner that's been organized by the Committee, and I didn't have many details beyond that. It's a series -- we're doing a series of these dinners as he did one recently with a friend of his up in Maryland.
Q: Do you know how much they cost, or anything?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. I'll check on it.
Q: This is not a DNC, Mike, this is Clinton-Gore?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think this is for the Committee.
Q: Can I -- was it Dick Morris or Penn & Schoen -- or all of the above who road-tested "common ground," or have you just come --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I have no idea.
Q: On the D'Amato response, would the First Lady have been willing to go up and testify if D'Amato had called her?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I didn't ask her.
Q: This argument on common ground and the President's health care approach representing pretty much mainstream America, versus the Republican radical approach, is it your argument then that all the Republicans simply need to do is scale back all their tax cuts, and if they were to do that, then they wouldn't need to support Medicare and Medicaid cuts of this magnitude, and that's the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: The President made that argument very directly today. He said if you look at the size of the tax cut that they're going after and then compare it to the mammoth size of the cuts in Medicare, there does seem to be the one-to-one correlation there, or pretty close to it. And you certainly could look at careful, better targeting of tax relief on middle income -- which the President does -- in exchange for changes we need to make in Medicare, savings that we would achieve over the long-term in that program -- which the President does -- and doing it in a way that's much more sensible. I mean, they are a way to address the same priorities.
So maybe that's the common ground that we're looking --we're looking for tax relief. We're looking for a balanced budget. We're looking for the long-term solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund. And the President has found a way to do it that we think is far less disruptive in the lives of the Americans who depend on these programs, and without taking the risk that the Republicans place in front of us of these very dramatic -- they even say, revolutionary -- changes in programs that have been on the books now for 30 years, that have been part of our fundamental social compact and that ought to remain a part of our life.
That's the argument today. Why go to the extreme in these things when we can find ways that we can do changes -- make the types of changes we want, in a way that most Americans would agree makes sense?
The President -- you've got Todd Purdum here trying to bother me with a political question earlier -- the President has been defining very tough, divisive issues in the life of this country -- race, issues of school prayer, issues of how you balance a federal budget -- and finding ways to do this in a way that clearly a majority of Americans can rally behind. He's taking the definition of where the center of the political spectrum is and is expanding it as broad as possible. And I read all the time, well, he's moving left, moving right -- a lot of that stuff is just nonsense. The President is formulating an argument that I think has a broad appeal across a wide cross-section of America.
And the Republicans seem so insistent on moving everything as far to the right as they can do. That doesn't seem to the President to make sense because we can rally people behind an agreement. You could call it whatever you want -- the center of the political spectrum, the common ground that exists in our political and social life -- but we can get the job done. And he's saying he's willing to do it and he's willing to work with Congress to do it and let's get on with it.
Q: Is the President suggesting a lack of compassion on the part of the Republicans or just misguided policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, both. Why not? (Laughter.)
Q: What does this mean about the Contract with America then? Is that just this --
MR. MCCURRY: There is a Contract with America. It's the 30 years in which we've had as a fundamental part of our social compact programs like Medicare.
The Contract for America that would require the Republicans to make these dramatic cuts in Medicare introduce sort of radical new elements into the program that undermine its support and its universal -- the universality of its support -- are going to disrupt something that is already part of America's Contract. And it's the social compact that has existed in the social insurance programs that Americans rely upon to protect them against old -- indigency in old age, against sickness and ill health in old age.
Q: One quick question on Bosnia. Has Clinton called anyone today, like Boutros Boutros-Ghali, or anyone?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not, although I understand that Ambassador Albright will likely meet with the Secretary General prior to his report of 4:30 p.m.
Q: Do we think there's going to be any Israel phone call or is that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that is not occurring today.
Q: Let me get back for a second to what Speaker Gingrich was saying about Vince Foster's suicide. Are you saying that if Speaker Gingrich has paid more attention to the hearings, he would be convinced that Vince Foster committed suicide?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just reporting to you that the Speaker's press secretary reached out and called me and just alerted me to the fact that the Speaker had some things today and he attempted to help me understand the context in which they were said. He's apparently willing to do that for all of you.
Q: Was he successful?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently he was, as you can tell.
Q: Is that the first time you've had a spin call from Blankley?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we talk to each other from time to time.
Q: Have you had to call him and explain what the President meant to say? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Not that my memory serves me to recall at this particular juncture. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the administration have a view on this bill to wipe out lobbying by nonprofit but maybe federally-funded organizations?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. And I know in general we have supported the lobby reform measure that is moving through Congress. We suggested, in fact, that as we develop this commission on political reform, working closely with our good friend, the Speaker, that we can find a way if lobby reform is already advanced far enough in Congress to take that out of the potential portfolio of this commission so that there would be nothing about the commission's work that would delay passage of that.
The President thinks that type of ban on lobbying is a good idea. Now, you're asking about a specific amendment that comes up?
Q: The AARP and others.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, you're coming at a specific measure that we will look into -- someone will look into, Mary Ellen or someone will.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:15 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/270060