THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Conrad International Hotel
Q Budget deal?
MR. LOCKHART: There is a meeting that's beginning at this moment on the Hill between the lead negotiators from the White House and the two parties on the Hill. We have some issues that we're continuing to work through. We've made progress over the last couple days, since I've talked to you last. Hopefully, they will be able to resolve some remaining issues and reach a deal.
Q Why is the President willing to accept an across-the-board spending cut when he vetoed one just two weeks ago?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's a big difference between where we were a few weeks ago, when they were talking about a 1 percent, across-the-board cut with no management flexibility and what they're talking about now.
It's very clear from our negotiating that this is a hard and fast, bottom line position for the Republicans. The number -- not so much the number, but somehow the symbolic value of an across-the-board cut. But what we're looking at here now is something which is about a third of one percent, and which the President got a commitment from Speaker Hastert that there would be management flexibility. That is, the agencies will be able to go in and look at where they can save money, rather than have the projects that Congress has dictated in earmarks be protected, and having them go after things like personnel, which is not protected, so that's very important.
I think, overall, if you look at this, there's quite a contrast in the approaches of the two parties. The Republicans this year made much of political symbolism. They decided that the centerpiece of their legislative agenda was going to be a tax cut they couldn't pay for and the public didn't support. They spent half the year pushing that before they dropped that.
Now, at the end, symbolism again remains very important for them. We now have
less than one-third of a percent reduction across government spending that's
impact with the management flexibility will be de minimus. But they believe
that this is what they want to have to make a political statement.
Q Joe, have you got agreement to exempt some departments or agencies, and if you do, what are those agencies and departments?
MR. LOCKHART: There's no agreement that I know, as far as exempting a particular department or agency. What we're working for, and what we have a commitment, is for the agencies in the federal government to be given flexibility in management, in looking at where they'll need to find the 0.3 percent savings. And I think, in raw numbers, you're looking at something around $2 billion, which in the overall budget is small -- although it would be significant if it had to be done in a way that only went after things like personnel. So I think that was important -- it was an important commitment to make.
Again, we don't think -- even looking at this 0.3 percent, this statement that they've made, is the right statement about how to govern. We think budgeting is about tough choices, setting priorities and then making the tough choices. The Republicans have a different view. But we think we've accomplished a lot this year with Democratic leadership, from teachers to cops to protecting the environment to paying our dues at the U.N., international debt relief. There's a whole long list of things, and those are important. And if they need to make a statement in order to get enough votes on their side, and to address issues within their caucus, well, then we'll move forward.
Q Joe, this is only -- if the across-the-board is only $2 billion, where does the rest of the $6 billion or $7 billion come from? What are the other offsets?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's one of the things that we're still talking about. They're in now, and we have said all along that spending has to paid for and that's what we're working with them on.
Q -- some sort of fee increases or tax increases or revenue increases?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have put on the table ideas for closing corporate loopholes. This is something that's actively being discussed at the table. And, you know, hopefully, if all goes well, if they can break this meeting, we can give you a lot more details.
Q Do you mean tonight? Do you mean later tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Possibly.
Q How are you going to tell us that?
Q Can you tell us the status of the mining rider? And has the President sent a letter to Senator Byrd, outlining his objections and where he stands on --
MR. LOCKHART: The President has sent a letter to Senator Byrd arguing strongly that this rider is unacceptable to the White House. We've worked very hard to remove a number of riders from the Interior Bill. And we've made clear in the letter to Senator Byrd that we find the proposed rider that he has authored unacceptable.
Q Why? Can you tell us why?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that it's unnecessary at this point. We have proposed some ideas that will provide an interim solution while this matter goes through judicial review, which it's in now, the judge has ordered a stay. And we think given all of the important work we've done on the Interior Bill this kind of rider at this time is something we can't accept.
Q Joe, does the President take seriously the criticism of the China trade deal from big labor, Teamsters? The President called it a slap in the face. And John Sweeney says it's disgustingly hypocritical.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President takes seriously and wants all segments of the American population, including organized labor, to ultimately support this deal or understand the reasons that we're moving forward. He's going to work very hard in the coming weeks and months to make the case for the benefits to American workers and business of the WTO agreement. He will talk to members of Congress. He's actually already, I think, talked to some members about what we need to do. And I expect that the support will be there. There is overwhelming benefits to our country from this agreement that are demonstrable from, and will become more clear as all of the details from this agreement emerge, so I think the President believes that there is support out there for it, and we will work closely with Congress to codify that in a way where we can move forward.
Q Joe, is the President disappointed that Vice President Gore doesn't support the deal on U.N.-backed dues and family planning overseas?
MR. LOCKHART: I think this was a particularly unnecessary fight that we have engaged in with Capitol Hill now for running on three, four, five years. The U.N. is an important organization. Our ability to pay our dues and keep our vote in the general assembly is crucial to our position in the world. The fact that a small number of members of Congress have held it up over a side issue has been completely unnecessary and destructive over the last three years.
We have crafted an arrangement that will not interfere with international family planning and pay our U.N. dues, and provide a commitment that the President called for in Cologne to debt relief. There are some who disagree with that, but we believe that this is a good deal, will provide for no real interference with international family planning. It only will remain in place for 10 months.
I suspect that, given an up or down vote on this, on its merits, it wouldn't be close in the Congress if they decide to take this up next year, and it was worthwhile in going forward.
Q Joe, does the President feel the Vice President was disloyal by criticizing this?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President believes that as he goes forward in his effort to make the case for why he's best prepared to be President. He needs to express his views, and he doesn't feel in any way dissatisfied with his expressions.
Q Joe, Russian leaders have said that it's hypocritical for America to take the moral high ground on the Chechnya issue because of the civilian casualties incurred in the crisis over Kosovo. So where do you get the moral authority to criticize Russia in the way that you have?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that a solution to this crisis has to be found through a political dialogue. We've been very concerned in the indiscriminate use of violence, which was, as you remember, never used in Kosovo. In Kosovo, there were great pains taken to minimize civilian casualties. And we believe that it's a case that the international community is making strongly, and speaking very strongly together on.
Q But Russia says it's using the same type of cautions, and that the civilian casualties are unintended.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I will leave it to others to compare. I think we have concerns that there is indiscriminate use of violence in the escalation of the conflict in the last several months.
Q Joe, do you know if the Greek government consulted the U.S. about its decision to ban demonstrations in the neighborhoods that the President will be in on Saturday?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you should assume that on all issues, from security to logistics to the substantive program of the trip, there have been wide-ranging discussions between the United States government and the Greek government.
Q Does that mean that the United States backs the Greek government's decision to bar demonstrations in certain areas?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that that is a decision for the Greek government to make. But it's certainly one that we understand.
Q No, one more.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh.
Q On Egyptair, sorry.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes?
Q Do you all have any concerns about whether Egypt is going to try to take the investigation back, or what the status of that is right now?
MR. LOCKHART: The status is that the NTSB is leading this investigation. That's where the information should come from. I have not heard any concern expressed that somehow the Egyptian government would try to take control of the investigation. They've worked closely with us from the beginning in a very cooperative way, and we expect that to continue.
Q Hey Joe, do you know how many bilaterals the President's having? Yeltsin has 11:00 a.m. tomorrow --
MR. LOCKHART: Chirac.
Q Chirac, at what time?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the time, but I think it's supposed to be done by about 3:00 p.m., so 2:00 p.m. sounds about right.
Q Joe, is anybody else --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me check the schedule.
Q If there is a budget deal, when would you expect the President to talk about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Depends on when the budget deal is announced. I wouldn't expect that if it's struck at 3:00 in the morning, that there's any reason to stay up.
Q Do you think he'd talk about it at some photo op tomorrow somewhere?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think as a practical matter, if it's something done in the middle of the night, we'll find an opportunity in the morning. If it happens ten minutes from now, you know, we may find a way twenty minutes from now. But I don't expect that to happen.
Q How about three hours from now?
MR. LOCKHART: Three hours from now?
Q One o'clock.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's a little late.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
END 9:42 P.M. (L)
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