Press Briefing by Mike McCurry and Deputy Press Secretary David Johnson
The Briefing Room
12:44 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, if you'll kindly take your seats so that we may begin yet another award-winning briefing here at the White House Press Briefing Room.
Q: It's almost 12:15 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: I know. I know. Well, we were -- we were accommodating the schedule of President Berisha.
I've got a special pleasure today to introduce two valued new members of the press team here at the White House. The first is Commander Brian Cullin. Brian, wave to everybody. Brian's got 15 years as a career public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy and has done a spectacular job at the Pentagon, most recently as a military backup for my colleague, Ken Bacon, over there. I think he'll bring a lot of depth to the team going -- working with Colonel Jim Fetig, who has already been on the NSC press staff. And we're delighted that Brian is going to be with us.
I think the most impressive part of his resume, however, is the eight years that he's spent as a National Park Service Ranger, although he claims he was not involved in advancing any of the President's most recent festivities in that part of the world.
Then my second introduction is someone that most of you know from the State Department, our new Deputy White House Press Secretary, David Johnson, formerly the Deputy Spokesman at the State Department and also the manager of the Office of Press Relations at the State Department. And to prove that you have to sink or swim here at the White House at the drop of a hat, I'm going to call upon Mr. Johnson to do a very brief readout of the meeting that President Clinton just had with President Berisha.
Q: Are you militarizing your staff?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q: Are you militarizing your staff? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'm bringing the necessary depth so that we can accurately comment on issues of national security, force projection, diplomacy and all aspects of America's important place in this world.
Q: That toy gun might have gotten to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Are you enlarging your staff -- you're adding another deputy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, actually both Brian and David are filling vacancies at the NSC staff, although they do have the pleasure of also having some duties associated with the Press Office.
Mr. Johnson, welcome to the White House.
Q: You get phone duty for Medicare. (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNSON: Good afternoon. I'll try to bring you the clarity of language that we always try to use at the State Department. (Laughter.) The meaningful words that we always try to bring out. And I'll start by telling you this was a very positive meeting. (Laughter.) See, I knew you would like that.
Q: Thank you.
MR. JOHNSON: The two Presidents, President Clinton and President Berisha talked a good deal about all the changes that have taken place in Albania over the last several years and the tremendous strides that Albania has made. President Berisha told President Clinton that Albania had almost tripled its per capita income since the change in government which came in the wake of all the changes in 1989.
One of the items they also talked about was the participation of Albania in the Partnership for Peace. In that respect, President Berisha talked about his admiration for the late Joe Kruzel and the fact that a building in Albania had been named for Mr. Kruzel in the last several days as a memorial. He talked at some length about how much he thought of and how much he appreciated the leadership that the United States had shown over the last several years, and especially in the last few weeks, in bringing about the NATO bombing effort to help enforce the safe areas and to try to bring relief to Sarajevo.
The President talked a bit about how we would be looking to Albania to further consolidate its democracy and bring about its market reforms; in particular, about how much we were looking to the Albanian government to bring further steps in terms of minority rights with respect to educational opportunity, freedom to practice one's religion and freedom from discrimination in employment, particularly in the areas of administration, military and law enforcement.
President Berisha is a strong proponent of the Partnership for Peace and looks forward to further participation in that activity. The President announced our intention to equip and outfit an Albanian Partnership for Peace peacekeeping contingent.
Also talked a bit about the desire of Albania to have some further help in patrolling their land -- excuse me, their sea and waterways in order to help further stem the problems that come with having a new democracy and having a government which is not used to trying to do those sorts of things and the fact that one's waterways and one's airways can be used for nefarious purposes. And they were looking for some assistance there, and we were going to look into ways we might be able to help.
Q: Did they discuss the Greek-Albania relations, in particular, the status of the Greek minority in Albania?
MR. JOHNSON: I think I just mentioned one of the central points that the President made was with respect to that Greek-Albanian minority and the types of things we would be looking to Albania to do as they consolidated democracy to bring about those minority rights, particularly with religion, with education and with employment opportunities.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, David. Okay. Fast start. He didn't get roughed up too much. (Laughter.)
Other questions that you might have today? Yes, Ms. Devroy.
Q: There are reports on the Hill that the administration was seeking $500 million for the Balkans reconstruction fund. How much are you seeking and what's the total estimated cost?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are still looking at the issue of if -- if there is a peace settlement that the parties themselves begin to implement, what would the cost of reconstruction of Bosnia-Hercegovina present to the international community, not just the United States, but our interests would be going, especially the Europeans, to have them participate in the largest share in rebuilding Bosnia-Hercegovina now ravaged by the years of conflict in that part of the Balkans. The United States, of course, would be willing to make commitments, but we've had very preliminary conversations at this point with members of the Hill to assess what sentiment there will be.
I think, as you know, the President will have the bipartisan leadership here later today for discussion of many issues that will be on the congressional agenda this fall, but among them certainly will be the effort to negotiate a peace agreement in the Balkans.
I have seen different types of estimates. I think a lot of it depends on what type of information we're able to generate as a peace settlement begins to take hold. There will be assessment teams, a variety of people, including USAID and others will be in a better position once there is a peace settlement to make assessments on what it will take to repair some of the damage to the war, especially critical economic infrastructure in Bosnia that would be necessary for Bosnia-Hercegovina to regain some economic capacity so it could generate income and wealth on their own.
But it'll be a sizeable undertaking; I would dispute that one estimate that's among several estimates that are floating around, that we just don't have a concrete estimate at this point until we have more information.
Q: You don't have a range?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a range, high-end, low-end, and I just don't want to speculate because we frankly don't want to frighten Congress with what the bill will be, because it won't all be a bill due to the United States, by no means; there are a variety of countries --
Q: It's not -- the total number, or -- $500 million is talking about our share of the total number.
MR. MCCURRY: It depends on the range.
Q: Are you willing to tell me you want to go to Congress to get money, but you don't want to frighten them by telling them how much?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have -- we don't know how much we're asking at this point. So I think the first thing we're going to do is -- it's a long ways away before the United States will be paying for any reconstruction in Bosnia; there's a war going on there still. What we're doing right now is trying to bring the war to an end. Certainly, one of the things that might be an inducement to the parties to end the conflicts is the fact that there would be a serious economic reconstruction effort that could come together, once they agree to stop fighting. They haven't agreed to stop fighting yet, and we don't know what the level of the damage is at this point, and there would have to be more careful assessments made.
But that is a project down the road, and I think the importance of making clear to the warring parties that the international community will assist in the economic reconstruction of Bosnia if they reach an agreement is an important one that has been extended on behalf of the Contact Group and on behalf of the U.S.-led negotiating team that's been meeting with the party.
Q: Does this $500 million fall somewhere within this high end and low end that you were talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: There are different assessments. That has been suggested at one point as a real preliminary estimate of what the expense might be, and frankly, I've seen that figure used sometimes as a total expense, I've seen it referred to sometimes as what would need to be collected in a first stage of a reconstruction effort, not all of it U.S, but potentially over time, a large part of it being U.S.
Q: Will that come up at the meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will describe the importance of economic reconstruction as a factor in the party's thinking as we attempt to get them to agree to stop fighting, because there's going to be serious work done rebuilding that country, and certainly one inducement to bring the conflict to an end is the prospect they could begin rebuilding their country so people could get on with their lives. That certainly is a preferable scenario to continued fighting.
Q: Do you have any commitment --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, the cost -- we're talking about cost -- remember, it is not a penniless operation to conduct the type of operation we are engaged in there now. So the costs of war are considerable in their own right.
Q: Do you have any commitment from the Republican leadership to participate in this, given the foreign affairs climate up there right now, for aid --
MR. MCCURRY: We hope they will understand the importance of the effort, and that's among the subjects the President might likely want to address with the leadership today.
Q: But they haven't been brought into this at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been consultations going on as Assistant Secretary Holbrooke and his team move through the region. We've had an opportunity, even during the recess, to brief from time to time staff,so they are aware of some of the general parameters of discussions. There has been a lot of speculation about this within the foreign policy community, too. So I don't think those facts are unknown to various members of Congress.
Q: Has Holbrooke departed? Has he departed?
MR. MCCURRY: My colleague, Nick Burns at the State Department was going to do more on his itinerary. I believe he was leaving this evening for Belgrade which was his first destination.
Q: And Talbott?
MR. MCCURRY: Deputy Secretary Talbott is also departing this evening for Moscow, if he hasn't already left. Maybe tomorrow morning. Either tonight or tomorrow morning he will be leaving for high-level consultations with the Russian Federation.
Q: Including Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware of any plans for him to meet President Yeltsin. I don't believe President Yeltsin is in Moscow, if my understanding is correct.
Q: Has President Yeltsin had any conversation about the NATO air strikes?
MR. MCCURRY: President Clinton and President Yeltsin? They have not had a discussion. No.
Q: And are we -- is Italy -- are we considering or do we approve of, or helping Italy to join the Contact Group to settle this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, at various points, had some discussions of an expanded Contact Group format. We are very appreciative of the help that the government of Italy has provided as NATO carries out the enforcement activities associated with meeting the conditions that have been established by the United Nations.
The question of Italian participation is really, in some sense, a European Union issue. But as -- given their role within the European Union troika and given the importance they play strategically within NATO, we would hope the reasons for their participation would be closely reviewed by other governments.
Q: Is there any problem with Italy's use of stealth bombers?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into questions on deployment of specific type aircraft.
Q: Just in terms of what the President is considering right now, is the U.S. still just committed to going forward with continued air strikes or is there any kind of back channel being worked that you can tell us about or anything in terms of trying to call off the need for these air strikes?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, the back channel is in fact a front channel. General Janvier, the United Nations military commander, has met directly with General Mladic and made very clear the conditions that attach to NATO's enforcement activity in pursuit of the conditions that have been established by the United Nations. They are quite clear in -- the timing of the suspension of the bombing is in a very real sense up to the Serbs. They need to comply with the conditions.
Q: And you get no sense that there's any movement from the Serbs?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been movement, but no sense that there has been full compliance with the terms that the United Nations has established.
Q: Mike, at the meeting this afternoon, will t he President offer specific suggestions to the congressional leadership on how to avoid a train wreck? And also, will you be giving us a readout after the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will provide the best readout we can. My guess is some of those members will want to talk to you immediately after the meeting. But we will see what we can say afterwards. As to whether or not the President will offer specific suggestions, in a sense, he's already offered a very specific document, which is his ten-year balanced budget proposal which is a way to get out of the gridlock that Congress is now in. And I think he will remind the Congress that is an available vehicle for breaking some of the impasse that Congress now faces as they have trouble wrestling with all of the different issues that are embedded in their own approach to the federal budget. But he'll certainly discuss with Congress ways in which they can get on with the orderly conduct of the nation's business and how best to do that in the weeks ahead.
Q: Could one of those ways --
Q: -- with regard to a CR?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say again.
Q: Does he have any specific suggestions with regard to CR?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they'll have some --
Q: The terms of the CR, the length of the CR?
MR. MCCURRY: They might have a conversation about those subjects. Sure.
Q: Would one of those ideas be a budget summit?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any enthusiasm here expressed for a summit.
Q: In terms of the appropriations bills, is the President resigned to the fact that if he wants them to preserve funding for some of his programs he's going to have to take hits in others? In other words, that the levels of each bill is set by the budget resolution or does he want them to go back and start from the beginning?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, given the tortured condition that Congress is in now, going back to square one and starting over might make a lot of sense. They might end up in a place very close to where the President already is. But we doubt that that's the way that the deliberations will unfold this fall. We don't know how willing Congress will be to step forward and recognize that you can't continue to adamantly hold to arithmetic that is faulty, to priorities that are wrong, and to a sense of process that doesn't lead the country forward, breaking the impasse that now exists.
Q: Does the President support means testing for wealthy Medicare recipients?
MR. MCCURRY: Means testing for Medicare beneficiaries is unnecessary under the President's proposal because the savings that we generate from our changes in Medicare and Medicaid help extend the solvency of the trust fund. We don't remember need to capture so much savings from Medicare beneficiaries because we don't have tax cuts that are disproportionately skewed to the elderly.
We don't need means testing for Medicare and Medicaid in the President's budget proposals because we generate the savings in a different fashion that protects beneficiaries and we get the job done without having to go in deeper into those programs. They have to go deeper into cutting those programs because they need the revenue so they can turn around and pass it out in the form of tax cuts to many of the people presumably who would be asked to pay more in a means-testing scheme.
Q: Is the White House questioning the numbers themselves that were put out by the GOP plan? I believe Bruce Vladeck yesterday said that premiums would actually have been three times --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Secretary Shalala had a statement yesterday in which -- by the best information available to us about the Republican proposal in the case that the size of the cuts, or the size of the premium increases for individual beneficiaries would likely be three times those that were suggested by the Speaker, and I would refer you to her statement which she issued yesterday.
Q: Everything you've been saying so far indicates there will be a total impasse with Congress. There doesn't seem to be any kind of elasticity.
MR. MCCURRY: Not me. I mean, you've heard comments from others saying there will be no autumn of compromise and we're not going to back down on these propositions that we've laid before the American people, but at some point math doesn't add up. So we'll see what happens when they meet this evening.
Q: Mike, on the CR -- presumably, you can't accept a CR that starts zeroing out programs. So what is acceptable? Is it a CR that only maintains current levels?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sitting here hours before the President sits down to have these exact conversations with the bipartisan leadership of Congress. It's pointless to ask me now what's acceptable, what's it going to take, what specifics are. Because if they get into that subject tonight, there will be forward momentum in the dialogue. We don't know as we sit here; there are no answers to those questions right now.
Q: Democrat congressional leaders said that conversations with the White House have, in fact, produced what's acceptable, or at least what the White House's opening bid is on this CR, and that is to accept Republican spending levels as reflected in their budget resolution, but not priorities. That is, the amounts of money freezing the amounts of -- cutting, in fact, to reach their level --
MR. MCCURRY: Did Gingrich and Dole say that? That sounds good to me.
Q: I'm saying this is what Democratic leaders say is your position. Can you dispute that?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got some ideas. The President's got some ideas he'll advance today and we have no idea how receptively they'll be received by the leadership on the other side.
Q: Do you know how long this meeting will last?
Q: It sounds good -- your response -- really?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm not going to get into any details of what the President might present as acceptable solutions to the impasse we're in now. It would be wrong to do that prior to the President doing that directly, face-to-face with the people he's going to meet with today.
Q: But that's an important question, that he's accepting the level of funding for each of these bills --
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered.
Q: How long will this meeting last today?
MR. MCCURRY: It'll last, depending on the substance and the tone of the meeting, they have other subjects they're going to get into, Bosnia and others. It could go 45 minutes, a half-hour. I think the President's scheduled to depart here at 6:30 p.m., so I doubt it'll go much longer than that.
Q: Could you at least say that that's an option that's being considered?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to suggest options. I mean, there's been some good reporting done, talking to people that we've been talking to about what the parameters of some approaches might look like. That all doesn't amount to much if there's no willingness to proceed on those lines on the part of the Republican leadership on the other side of the aisle.
Q: Will you brief after, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see what situation we're in after the meeting. We'll try to provide some type of readout from our end, although as I mentioned, I can't imagine that both Democratic and Republican members won't want to go out and talk to all of you.
Q: Don't you feel compelled to respond to what the Republicans tell us out front?
MR. MCCURRY: I have good faith that the Democratic leadership will be able to accurately characterize the views of the President.
Q: Mike, do you have any comment on Colin Powell's latest revelations regarding his views on affirmative action, gun control, abortion --
Q: And your administration?
Q: -- and the Clinton administration?
MR. MCCURRY: He had a lot to say. You mean, in his Barbara Walters interview?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't catch the show. How many watched it?
Q: It's not on.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not on. Oh, oh. They just had the excerpts that I saw reported today.
Q: ABC is promoing that.
Q: And Wolf is promoing --
MR. MCCURRY: Should I promote it? Sounds interesting. No, look, I mean, one thing I saw that General Powell was quoted saying that, given the reality of politics, it would probably in his mind be easier in advance if he decided to enter presidential politics, it might be easier for him to do so as a Republican. He indicated that he was in favor of some aspects of affirmative action, if I read the accounts of the interview correctly, that he understood some of the need to restrict certain types of gun ownership, or at least acquiring guns in the United States. He expressed some views that I think I would describe if he didn't himself describe as being pro-choice, so I wonder how easy it would be for him to advance those types of ideas within a Republican presidential primary process.
As I've seen the Republican presidential primary process unfold so far, I don't recall Senator Arlen Specter doing that well. But, General Powell is an enormously impressive figure, and he might be able to carry those ideas well and, thus, demonstrate that a form of liberal Republicanism that has had a pride of tradition in that party going to Jacob Javits, Cliff Case, Mac Mathias and others is alive and well. I didn't think it was alive and well, but maybe it is.
Q: Did he turn down the Secretary of State?
Q: You didn't rule out a Democratic primary --
MR. MCCURRY: He said he would not take -- he said he would pretty much rule it out, but you should not take that pledge and jump over a cliff with it, and that we would suggest that's probably a wise idea.
Q: Then, how do you take Colin Powell's criticism of the Clinton foreign policy --
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- that's the one part -- I mean, seriously, I would like to talk about that. (Laughter.) Okay. Joking around is fine, but that is --
Q: No, I mean, it's a serious criticism of Clinton foreign policy.
MR. MCCURRY: He -- I'd just like to review that for a second. You know, General Powell was critical, if I understand it correctly, not so much of policy, but of process. I would suggest that the policy process for making foreign policy in this administration is considerably advanced from the time that General Powell last checked in on it.
Among other things, there are some new individuals involved, and this process of which apparently the General is somewhat critical, has done some extraordinary things in recent weeks, from defining much clearer and more robust approach to trying to solve the conflict in the Balkans, to successfully restoring democracy in Haiti, to handling very delicate and difficult important bilateral relationships with China and with Russia, to achieving major advancements in our nonproliferation agenda, including the management of the very real and significant nuclear threat in North Korea, advancing a peace process that, though fragile, does bring some hope to the people in Northern Ireland.
I think in all of those respects, this foreign policy team has demonstrated that it can handle some tough business and in a very disciplined, methodical way and do the business of this country as it addresses major and foreign policy issues. Maybe General Powell would like some update on where we are since last he was able to meet with the President, some of the foreign policy team.
Q: He was part of your Haiti effort.
MR. MCCURRY: He was here early on, but not later on. I think that the world has turned and things have moved on. I wasn't here during the time that he was referring to.
Q: Are you saying that he's wrong?
Q: -- Republicans with his candidacy make it better for President Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say again.
Q: Would his candidacy make it better for President Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, who knows? I have no way of knowing.
Q: When did the world turn? Since you and Panetta came on board? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm not -- there are, as I said, there are some new foreign policy principles that General Shalikashvili would encounter should he now enter into the Situation Room with the President and watch this team handle crises. I would suggest that this team has been deft, has handled some difficult issues adroitly, and has done the business of protecting America's interests in this world exceedingly well.
And I would suggest to the General that there's a record now that he can look at that we would like to talk about more ourselves and he can visit that record. My understanding of his comments was, they were directed more to his early experiences and those are his views. I don't challenge his views, but I would suggest what's important is what America is doing in the world today and how the President and his foreign policy team are managing the crises important to America's interest in the world today. And I think on that the record is pretty clear and pretty good.
Q: Mike, presidential elections still gravitate mainly around domestic issues. And on that score, from what General Powell has said so far, he would seem to be pretty well at one with President Clinton. Do you folks take heart from his pronouncements on domestic issues so far? And if he follows that course, what would differentiate him from President Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: Ultimately, any candidate who wants to run for president has to present some program that indicates what choices are before the American people. With what we've seen General Powell say so far, there is some common ground thinking there. In many ways, General Powell is reflecting on some of the social issues he has addressed so far, much the same sentiments you've heard the President express.
But there hasn't been a detailed exploration of those issues on everything from tax policy to budget policy to the important lifeblood of America's future which is the economy and how we invest in the economy and give American workers a chance at higher wage jobs. I haven't seen a whole lot of reporting so far on what the General's views are on this.
So I can't make any judgment about whether he is an echo of President Clinton at this point, but the important point I did make was that he does -- his views on those issues seem to me starkly different than those that I've heard expressed so far by Republican presidential candidates. But I do gather that the General has indicated he thinks it would be easier for him if he enters politics to advance his own interests as a Republican -- unless I misinterpreted some of the reporting I saw.
Q: You said earlier today that the President is going to receive the Dalai Lama the same way he did the past two years. What's the reason for that type of reception versus a straightforward meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in many cases, important and distinguished visitors to the White House meet with a variety of officials here at the White House, and, in some cases, the Vice President. Being received by the Vice President of the United States is being received at a very high level, and that has been the pattern at which the United States has received the Dalai Lama here at the White House, and there's been no change in that and no change planned.
Q: If I could follow up, what is our -- how do we define Tibet at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: We recognize Tibet as a part of China under Chinese sovereignty. Have for some time.
Q: One more follow up, former President Bush had some fairly harsh things to say about the administration's policy with China. Has he talked to President Clinton since he met with Chinese leaders? Has he communicated any of this to the current administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I believe the former president is still traveling. I'm not sure that he's returned. But in any event, I'm not aware of any conversation he's had with President Clinton. He's had some things to say publicly and been engaged in a long-distance with Bella Abzug. (Laughter.) But I'm not sure we've paid a lot of attention to any of that.
Q: Was he carrying any message to the President --
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President had a very good meeting with former President Bush prior to the former President's trip where we sought out his views. The President was interested in his thinking on how to manage what has been a difficult relationship but one that needs positive and constructive engagement, and we've been doing exactly that.
If I read the former President's correctly, he was saying that there needs to be a broad and careful engagement with the Chinese leadership. That has been exactly the purpose of the diplomacy we've been pursuing from Secretary Christopher's meeting with his counterpart to the recent trip of Under Secretary Tarnoff to the upcoming meeting of Secretary Christopher and the Foreign Minister/Deputy Premier and perhaps the meeting at highest levels between President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton.
Q: When did he meet with Bush?
MR. MCCURRY: He met with Bush the day that he was here for unveiling his portrait. He invited the former president over to the Oval Office for a discussion of both Bosnia and China.
Q: So the meeting at the U.N., the Chinese president is not firm or is opposed?
MR. MCCURRY: It has not been agreed to or announced by either government. There has been a suggestion on both the Chinese side and the U.S. side that would be a topic explored in subsequent meetings, including the one on September 27th between the Secretary and the Deputy Premier.
Q: Any comment on Pete Wilson's decision to drop out of the Iowa caucus race?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't criticize that because I recall the current Vice President of the United States having done likewise at one point long ago. So that's a decision that he has to -- that Governor Wilson has to make.
Q: Mike, what's on the agenda for Tony Lake's meeting with Gerry Adams tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're going to talk about how best to advance the peace process now at a point in which we are encouraging both parties to try to keep momentum moving forward on the declaration and on addressing the issues that remain unresolved. Clearly, among them, is the need for a serious discussion about decommissioning. The President will, I'm sure, emphasize that to Gerry Adams tomorrow and they'll talk how best to advance the dialogue both between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, but also the other parties who have a keen interest in the outcome of those deliberations.
Q: You said the President. Do you mean the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm sorry. Mr. Lake. There are no plans at present for Mr. Adams to meet with the President.
Q: A drop-by?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm -- not that's scheduled or planned at this point.
Q: At today's meeting, what advice would President Clinton have for the Republicans on the eve of their Medicare -- unveiling their Medicare package?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, to be as specific and as honest as you can with elderly beneficiaries of these programs so that the American people understand what's in -- what they're in for as they look ahead. As near as we can tell, they are in for very significant and deep cuts in current program activity, likely increases in premiums, and, we think, a lot of misery that is only in the name of providing massive tax cuts to people who, frankly, don't need those tax cuts. So to the degree that they can be very specific and spell out precisely how they would generate the savings if they fall short on the targets that are within the budget resolution, how would they propose to make up that shortfall, that type of specificity is necessary at this point.
Now, we've put together our ideas, put together our general parameters, but, frankly, there's not much interest on the part of the Republicans in hearing our specifics. So they've got the ball and they're running with it.
Q: We're interested, Michael; what are your specifics?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if there was any point in putting them forward, we would do so in a microsecond.
Q: If you're calling on them for specificity, why don't you --
MR. MCCURRY: There's no point. They have no interest in engaging us in a discussion on the topic.
Q: What about the American people?
MR. MCCURRY: The American people are watching, you know, who's got the ball and who's running with it. And that's the Republican Congress right now. They've shown no interest in taking up the President's ten-year budget plan and fleshing out the details of that plan and working with hat as an outline of how we can break this impasse. So the action is with the Republican Congress. We frankly concede that. But now is the time to get down to real specifics because they've got to write a bill.
Q: What more detail do you want when they've broken down the $270 billion including, in case they fall short, this $80 billion fall-back provision?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what they need to do. I don't -- I believe they have not quite done that at this point.
Q: Can I get back to --
Q: Mike, what will the President be saying tonight about the debt ceiling and what is your latest estimate on the debt ceiling --
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't pinpointed the exact time that the debt ceiling will be upon us, and the President will discuss the need for removing that as an impediment to resolving these fundamental budget debates that exist. They'll probably have some discussion of that tonight.
Q: Does he expect -- does he really expect that the Republicans will go along with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing.
Q: Can we go back to the Gerry Adams business a minute? Is the United States interested in playing a role in an international commission on decommissioning the arms of the IRA? And will Mr. Lake be talking about that with Adams?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we understand that both governments have had some discussion of some type of commission to address the issue of decommissioning. There's been suggestions in fact that our current special envoy, former Senator Mitchell might be invited to participate, but there's been no direct request made of our government. We will certainly follow up with additional discussions with both governments how they view the issue of decommissioning. But as I said, the President views it as necessary to proceed to a serious discussion of that issue promptly.
Q: Would Mitchell be willing to do that -- would Mitchell be willing to do that if that's --
MR. MCCURRY: The United States, under the President's leadership, has already demonstrated it's very interested in trying to move this process forward. I can't imagine we wouldn't respond favorably to an invitation from the parties. But that invitation has not been forthcoming, I would stress.
Q: Getting back to the means testing, what you said was that the President has not come forward in his plan with a need for means testing for Medicare recipients. But do you oppose the concept of means testing for wealthy recipients?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, it's not necessary under the President's proposal. We don't favor it because it is in effect a beneficiary cut. One of the key goals of the President's ten-year budget proposal was to achieve Medicare, Medicaid savings without requiring new cuts of beneficiaries. And various means testing proposals would be a form of cutting, and that's not necessary now at this point under the President's plan.
Q: Didn't you propose means testing last year?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been aspects of means testing introduced in everything from Social Security to some aspects of Medicare over recent years. The President, to my knowledge, has not opposed those, and at times, they have explored ways in which you could introduce some features like that as part of a comprehensive health care reform, but that's by no means what the Republican proposal is in fact.
Q: Mike, do you agree with the Speaker's argument then that those elderly on a fixed income of $25,000 a year are in fact subsidizing Medicare for those elderly making over $125,000?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a universal system. You're subsidizing it; I'm subsidizing it. That's the nature of a universal social insurance program. And in some ways, that's the genius of the program. That's why it's politically difficult to address these questions because every American participates, even though some Americans, like Congressman Armey, would like to opt out. But the whole genius of that form of social insurance program is with universal participation and universal benefits, they enjoy the broad support of the American people.
Q: So are you saying that as long as it's just an incremental plan -- you don't support means testing but somewhere down the pike if you worked toward universal plan that once again would be --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, somewhere down the pike we might someday achieve genuine health care reform. Yes.
Q: Well, Mike, it isn't really a universal system, is it? Two-thirds of the funds for Medicare, don't they come out of the general treasury? Taxpayers are not in the --
MR. MCCURRY: Part A is -- depending on whether you're talking about Part A or Part B, they are funded on a general revenue. So, in a sense, all taxpayers pay. It's not a self-contained system and not just trust fund --
Q: This has been a steadily increasing burden on the average taxpayer over the years.
MR. MCCURRY: It has been, and that's one of the President's sources of real concern as he addresses the health care issue, is controlling the rising cost of health care spending which is one of the things that he addresses very directly in his own ten-year budget proposal.
Q: Do you have a schedule of some of the events that have been added on the Miami/Denver/L.A. visit?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if --
Q: That Fed vacancy -- is there an update on the Fed vacancy?
MR. MCCURRY: No update on the Fed vacancy. Thank you. END END 1:23 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry and Deputy Press Secretary David Johnson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270183