George W. Bush photo

Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto

December 21, 2007

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

9:32 A.M. EST

MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone.

Q: Good morning.

Q: So are those the colors of the Italian flag behind you?

MR. FRATTO: That's exactly what it is. (Laughter.) Thanks, Ann. Buon giorno tutti. (Laughter.) Hope the stenos get that.

Q: Prego. (Laughter.)

MR. FRATTO: The President taped the radio address this morning, 7:30 a.m. The President will deliver a message of gratitude to our men and women who are fighting in the war on terror, and to their families who are separated from them during the holiday season.

He had his normal briefings. At 11:10 a.m. today, the President and Mrs. Bush depart the White House via Marine One en route Camp David, where they will remain for the weekend -- or through the weekend, I should say.

Q: How long?

MR. FRATTO: I'm going to give you the week ahead now, since there isn't much to it.

Q: Is he going to go home -- he doesn't come back here first?

MR. FRATTO: He stays until -- he stays through Christmas, through December 25th, where he'll remain overnight. Wednesday, December 26th, the President travels to Crawford, where he remains until New Year's Eve, December 31st. And then, Tuesday, January 1st, the President returns to Washington.

Q: And briefings will be in Texas?

MR. FRATTO: In Texas. I think -- Scott will be down there. I'm sure Scott will have an opportunity to do some gaggles down there, but I don't know what the schedule --

Q: But nothing here?

MR. FRATTO: Nothing here.

Q: And he's got no stops on the way down there or on the way back?

MR. FRATTO: No, not that I'm aware of at this time.

Q: -- from Camp David to Andrews?

MR. FRATTO: Camp David to Andrews, correct.

Q: And Monday is a holiday, you're not briefing?


Q: This office is closed on Monday?

MR. FRATTO: I'll be gone. Dana will be in town, and we'll figure out -- we'll be serviceable, as always, around the clock. (Laughter.)

Q: But there's nobody going to be here?

MR. FRATTO: No. Well, will we have anyone here on Monday? No. I won't be here. I'll be in Pittsburgh.

Q: What's your number there? (Laughter.)

MR. FRATTO: Same number here. You all know how to reach me. Questions?

Q: Does he have any business coming up?

MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, does the President or --

Q: Yes.

MR. FRATTO: Any business coming up today or --

Q: No --

MR. FRATTO: Nothing to announce right now, and I'm not expecting -- I expect it to be a very light, typical holiday schedule.

Q: -- policy meetings down in Crawford?

MR. FRATTO: He usually does some meetings. I don't have anything for you on that right now.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- down there, right?

MR. FRATTO: I don't have information on who might be visiting.

Q: Do you have any comment on this morning's court hearings and on the CIA tapes?

MR. FRATTO: No. I mean, that's going to be for the Department of Justice to address. I'm sure you'll hear from them -- or the court will hear from them, and the court reporters will be able to report on it. But I'm not going to have commentary on that.

Q: Does the White House know of anything that's in those tapes that would have pertained to the Gitmo prisoners?

MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to comment on tapes.

Q: When the President said yesterday he's going to have Nussle and OMB look at some of these spending items, about all you can do to impound funds and ask Congress for recisions, right?

MR. FRATTO: There, I think -- part of what he asked him to do was to review all the options. We may not have tools to deal with earmarks. It may be largely an issue for, again, for Congress to deal with. We don't have a line-item veto, of course. But that's something that the OMB Director will take a look at.

Look, I mean, this is -- we talked a lot about earmarks. The Democratic Congress, when they came in, talked about earmarks and I guess -- maybe we need a 12-step group to deal with earmarks. They took the first step of admitting that they have a problem. I think one of the other steps is you have to make amends. So we'd like to see more amendment making -- (laughter.)

Q: They'd have to give it all back, under the 12-step program.

MR. FRATTO: I think you have to admit to a higher power, too, don't you?

Q: Restitution is big.

MR. FRATTO: Restitution is definitely big, yes.

Q: Will he make any recess appointments?

MR. FRATTO: We have no -- we may not have a higher power, but that's something that Jim Nussle will be looking at.

Q: Recess appointments?

Q: At the risk of getting lost in the weeds here, what is the White House position on the argument that earmarks that are contained in committee reports do not have the force of law?

MR. FRATTO: That's something that the OMB Director will have an opinion on, and we'll get an answer for you on that.

Q: The White House does not have --

MR. FRATTO: I don't have an answer for you on that. I don't have an answer for you on that right now. Are you asking, in terms of a constitutional question or a policy question -- and I don't have a clear answer for you on that right now.

Q: Are you working on an economic stimulus package --

MR. FRATTO: I was going to --

Q: I was just going to ask about that, the President having some discretion. Because budget experts have said that the vast majority of earmarks are in report language and that the President would have to spend the money, but he doesn't have to spend it on earmarks. I mean, have you guys gotten into that?

MR. FRATTO: That's something -- that will be part of Director Nussle's review. Look, earmarks present a huge problem for government. Congress sets out lots of standards for programmatic funding. They appropriate the money, and then they tell agencies certain requirements. The agencies go through elaborate regulation and policy regulation processing, grant processing on how they're supposed to distribute money, how it's supposed to be merit-based, what priorities ought to be. States go through an equally rigorous effort to set priorities for funding that they get from the federal government.

And so to then have Congress come in and identify the projects that individual members think ought to be the number one priority, after agencies and state agencies go through all this time and effort and public rule-making to try to get it right, causes real problems for how you spend money. And in some cases -- I think we talked about this when we were talking about earmarks during -- when the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, that earmarks were noted as a particular problem because states go through this process -- in fact, they're required to do it, to list their top spending priorities for transportation projects. And sometimes earmarked funds don't get spent because they're not in the correct order of the list that a state puts together. So it causes lots of problems for agencies that are out there trying to spend money and really trying to do the right thing, based on merit and based on standards of regulation, that have been promulgated publicly, and commented on, and published in Federal Registers.

So it is a real problem. We hope Congress can do more to address it. They've made some progress this year, but a lot more needs to be done. And Director Nussle will be taking a closer look at it to see if there are any tools that we have to be able to address it.

Q: He'll be looking to see if there's some discretion on phonemarks, as well?

MR. FRATTO: On phonemarks? I don't know. We'll see.

I'm sorry, I'm going to get Toby, and I'll come back to you, Ann.

Q: Is the administration working on an economic stimulus package aside from what you've already done on the housing sector?

MR. FRATTO: Look, I think we need to just take a step back and look at how the U.S. economy has handled economic headwinds, I mean, just what the current state of the economy is. And the President addressed this a little bit yesterday, in terms of the economic fundamentals for this economy being fairly sound. We're still seeing economic growth; we're still seeing job growth; still seeing wage growth. Exports have been very strong and have supported growth in the economy. And then we have certain headwinds that we have to deal with, whether they be from the effects of higher energy prices; the slowdown in the housing market is certainly a drag on economic growth and is leading to -- and has led to constraints in the credit markets and lending markets, which have an impact also. And we've tried to address these things.

In the case of energy, I mean, it was great to sign an energy bill the other day. The President called for an energy bill back in February; it took all year to get that bill done. In the case of housing, you have lots of federal agencies and -- led by Treasury and Hank Paulson; the Fed is doing their work to use all the tools that they have to deal with, with housing. We also need Congress to act.

Again, we were able to sign this mortgage debt tax forgiveness legislation yesterday, but we have had FHA modernization sitting up in Congress now for really two years, going back to 2006. It wasn't acted on in that Congress, it was reintroduced in this Congress, and has been sitting there all year. The House and the Senate each passed bills and they ended the year without action on reconciling those bills and dealing with this issue to give FHA the tools that we think they need to deal with this problem.

One thing I think is important to note is that when you have an economy that is dealing with these kinds of headwinds, I think any Econ 101 student will tell you the last thing you want to do is raise taxes. So one thing we have been able to do is to keep contractionary economic policy in the form of tax increases from coming through this Congress and hitting taxpayers.

Q: But are you guys actually working on something new? When you say all options are on the table --

MR. FRATTO: Yes, all options are always on the table. We're always looking for what are the long-term -- what policies will put us in the best long-term position to continue economic growth and job growth and raise standards of living. We're also in the budget process right now where we're putting together the President's budget. The budget that he presents in the first week of February will reflect our best economic assessment for the near-term and the mid-term --

Q: I'm trying to find out whether the administration is actively, at this point, trying to put together a new economic stimulus --

MR. FRATTO: We're always looking at the tools we have available to ensure the best long-term health of the economy.

Q: We were hoping for a simple yes.

MR. FRATTO: I know that. (Laughter.)

Q: Should we anticipate more economic stimulus initiatives coming down the pike?

MR. FRATTO: I'm running short on time, but let me get Ann, and then we come back to Deb. And I'll get you, Les. I won't leave without you.

Q: Under what authority can the President tell California it can't have tougher global warming levels than the national strategy that he said he wanted?

MR. FRATTO: I mean, the President didn't tell California that, but the EPA Administrator made his independent decision on whether to approve or not approve that waiver. He made a decision not to approve the California waiver, and as he explained, I think, he made that based on what he thought was best for the nation in addressing this issue. And he pointed to the really significant policy changes that are going to come through from the energy bill that we signed last week.

Q: -- no longer supports the kind of states' rights that he did when he was governor?

MR. FRATTO: There's always a balance. And he does support -- he does have a healthy respect for states' rights. But these decisions need to be made in terms of what is best for the country. We support EPA Administrator Johnson's decision, but it was his decision to make.


Q: Thank you, Tony. A number of times here, when questions were raised about former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean, we were told that there is a process for pardon. And I have a three-part question on this.

MR. FRATTO: You have to make it quick, because they're calling for me.

Q: I will. Could you explain to us why the President refuses to commute these men who shot an escaping Mexican drug smuggler --


Q: -- as the President commuted the prison sentence of his friend, Scooter Libby.


Q: Okay. What is the White House reaction to one of the judges of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated, the government overreacted, but there's no indication when this three-judge panel will rule on this appeal?

MR. FRATTO: I don't have a reaction on that. We're going to limit it to two, and then Paula, and then --

Q: I just have this last --

MR. FRATTO: It's okay. Paula.

Q: When the President took office, you were in a recession. And the argument at that time was, you needed a stimulus package and there was a problem of timing because there's a lag time. So is there any, like, tipping point where you feel, like, is it going in that direction in a recession, that you should do something rather than wait until you're in a recession?

MR. FRATTO: I would ask that question of outside economists.

Q: Why not inside economists?

Q: To follow up the Econ 101, the last thing you want to do is raise taxes -- the converse of that, then, is cutting taxes would stimulate it. Since we know the economy is going to slow next year, do you think that it's strong enough now to not have tax cuts?

MR. FRATTO: I'm always fascinated by reporters who tell me that they are absolutely certain what the economy is going to do over future quarters. Always fascinated by it. And I'll remind you that the best economy -- the best statisticians in the world, in the U.S. government, it takes them three reports to get the GDP estimate right for the previous quarter. So take all these estimates with a grain of salt going forward.

Thank you, everyone. Buon Natale.

END 9:48 A.M. EST

George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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