Remarks Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. I would like to make just a brief comment, if I might, and then I'll take a couple of questions.
I want to welcome Prime Minister Chernomyrdin here to the United States. We clearly recognize that his support for President Yeltsin's reform program has been essential to its success and will continue to be essential to its success. And we're very grateful that he's here.
I also want to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister and to Vice President Gore for successfully concluding the first round of talks and agreements under the Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation that grew out of my meeting with President Yeltsin in Vancouver. They have signed just now, as all of you know, some very exciting agreements which will permit us to cooperate with Russia in space. Russia has agreed to observe the principles of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which is something the United States very much appreciates. We are going to work together on matters of energy and environmental protection, which I think will be very helpful to Russia's long-term development and also help with American business. And in general, I think this is the beginning of a lot more opportunities for mutual trade and investment between our two countries.
So I'm personally very happy about this. And because of the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Vice President, this first step has exceeded my expectations considerably, and I'm very, very appreciative.
Health Care Reform
Q. Sir, on health care, are short-term price controls now dead?
The President. Well, they never were alive. I never embraced them. They have been discussed. What I think you have to acknowledge is that the pharmaceutical companies and the industry as a whole and other segments of the health care providers have voluntarily offered, during the course of this debate, to keep their prices within inflation for a year or two as we get up and get going the health care reform package. And I think they should be given the opportunity to adhere to the commitment that they've made.
And so, my own view is—I've never been particularly hot on price controls. I believe in budgets, and I believe we have to limit the amount of growth and the revenues we're spending on health care, both public and private. So I want to point out that, as all of you know, in the last budget, you've got a decline in defense, flat domestic spending. Medicare and Medicaid is going up. It's someplace between 11 and 15 percent in the first year, down to 9 to 11 percent in the 5th year of the budget, and still going up way too much. So we're going to bring it down. But I don't think we have to have a bureaucratic system of price controls to do it.
Q. Sir, what about the senior citizens groups that are afraid that Medicare is going to be squeezed under the plan that will be announced?
The President. Under our plan, as you know because we've talked about it for a long time, we want to phase in a more comprehensive plan of long-term care for the elderly as well as access to medicine for people on Medicare who aren't quite poor enough to be on Medicaid and can't afford their drug bills. We're having a lot of extra costs in our health care system because senior citizens can't get the drugs that they need. So senior citizens will come out way ahead.
It is not logical, with inflation at 3 percent and the population growth of Medicare and Medicaid between 1 and 1 1/2 percent, to have those programs going up between 12 and 16 percent a year. That's not right and it's not necessary, and we can do much, much better. And from those savings in the rate of increase— we're not talking about cutting the programs, we're talking about slowing the rate of increase—we can fund the drug and long-term care programs, which is what I propose to do.
Q. With the collapse of the Bosnian peace talks, are you going to repropose lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and the air strikes?
The President. Let me answer the question in two parts, if I might. First of all, they are stalled. I don't believe they are collapsed. The United States will do everything we can in the next few days to get the parties to resume the talks in good faith.
Secondly, if while the talks are in abeyance there is abuse by those who would seek to interfere with the humanitarian aid, attack the protected areas, and resume the sustained shelling of Sarajevo, for example, then first I would remind you that the NATO military option is very much alive. And secondly, I would say, as you know, I have always favored lifting the arms embargo. I think the policy of the United Nations as it applies to that government is wrong. But I am in the minority; I don't know that I can prevail. But our allies have said repeatedly that they don't want to totally eliminate the arms embargo if the present state of play is sufficiently abused by other parties. So yes, it's still on the table, but I think that the sequence should be let's try to get the peace talks started again. Let's remember that there is a NATO option that is very much alive if there is an interruption of the present state of play that is sufficiently severe.
[At this point, a question was asked and answered in Russian.]
Q. Mr. President, a Russian journalist.
The President. A Russian journalist?
Q. Yes. When can be expected the lifting of these old restrictions and barriers to the trade and cooperation between Russia and the United States back from the cold war period?
The President. When the Congress comes back into town next Tuesday, we have a list of approximately 60 pieces of legislation that we would like to see repealed. And we believe there will be broad bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress for moving this legislation through. So I think you will see quick legislative action on a whole broad range of issues to recognize the fact that Russia is a democracy, is working with us, and that we are moving forward together. And I look forward to pushing that package very aggressively.
Q. You mentioned the Bosnia arms embargo. Within the next couple of weeks people expect you to lift the embargo against Vietnam. Have you made a decision, sir, and have you discussed with the Prime Minister—what have you discussed about the possibility of American POW's in the Soviet Union?
The President. We're going to go visit. We haven't discussed anything about anything yet. We're just about to start our meeting. And I've reached no further decisions about Vietnam.
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. On the Middle East, you will be discussing, I'm sure, that with Russia, that played a major role. What is the latest development that you know of? Are you very optimistic on the Middle East?
The President. I'm still hopeful. The parties, I think, have been quite candid with the public and the press about some continuing difficulties. But they're really working hard and with great candor, I think, with one another. I'm hopeful. We've been up the hill and down the hill before with the Middle East, but these people are really working at it, and I think their hearts as well as their minds are in it. I think we should keep our fingers crossed. The United States will continue to do what we have done. We're just a sponsor of this process. They will have to make the agreement. And I think there's reason for hope.
NOTE: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217359