INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY
Malcolm X Shabazz High School
1:27 P.M. EST
Q Welcome, Mr. President. It's a real honor to have you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q This is an interesting initiative because, on the one hand, you're compelling companies to do something good, but you also have to get them to respond to that message. How do you do that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I find that a lot of them want to do it. I think there is a real awareness in America to that, that we're going through the best economy we've ever had and, yet, for whatever reason, there are people and places that are left behind.
I argue, number one, that it's our obligation to try to help, those of us that have done better; and, number two, that it actually makes good economic sense, because one of the big questions on every business person's, every economist's mind, everybody that plays the market is, well, how long can this economic expansion go on, how much more growth do we have, how many more jobs can we create before either it runs out of steam or inflation takes over and it has to be broken. And my argument is that the best opportunity we have to continue this expansion without inflation is to invest in new markets. And the closest new markets are those here at home and the people and places that have been left behind.
Q Can you guilt them into doing that, though?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think that it's a matter of guilt. I have a positive approach that I think we do have an obligation to do it, but I think we'll feel better if we do. But I also believe it is in the economic self-interest of those who are doing well now.
I think there are real opportunities here. And I think that's what people like Lew Katz and Ray Chambers think. These guys, they're doing this, dedicating a big percentage of their profits to reinvestment in downtown Newark partly because they feel a sense of obligation. They think it's the morally right thing to do; they think it's important for our country's long-term strength and coherence. But they also know there are real opportunities here. I mean, we can create a lot of jobs here, create a lot of businesses here. I just think it's a real opportunity.
Now, I'm also attempting to work out a bipartisan agreement with the Congress to pass a series of tax credits and loan guarantees which would, in effect, give investors the same incentives to invest in the poor areas in America we give them to invest in the poor areas in South America or Africa or Asia. And I think that will help a lot, too.
Q You know, when you mentioned that in your remarks earlier today, you almost sounded like Pat Buchanan, because that's his pitch.
THE PRESIDENT: But the difference between me and Pat Buchanan is I think we ought to invest abroad, too. That is, I'm not an "America only," but I don't want to leave behind the people who are hurt in America.
Q But isn't his point that we have left behind some of the unfortunate in America?
THE PRESIDENT: But he's right about that. He's right about that. But I don't think that the way to stop leaving them behind is to put up a lot of trade barriers -- because we've gotten 30 percent of our growth, until the Asian financial crisis, came from the expansion of American markets abroad. We only have 4 percent of the world's people; we have 22 percent of the world's wealth. We obviously have got to sell something to the other 96 percent of the folks out there.
So while I don't agree with him that we should put up barriers and, in effect, shrink the volume of world trade, I do agree that we have to do more to reinvest in our own country, in our own people and create markets here. And if we can't do this now, when the economy is perhaps the strongest it has ever been, when will we ever get around to doing it?
Q -- could read into that, sir, that, you know, here your Vice President is in the fight of his life. There are many, for example, in the labor movement who, while ostensibly supporting him, fear that this administration with support of international treaties has somehow abandoned them -- rightly or not. And I wonder whether your remarks today and these initiatives over the last few months are an effort to help Mr. Gore?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think they should help him because he's been a part of it, but that's not why I proposed them. Keep in mind, look at the record. In January of 1993, my first month in office, I proposed the empowerment zones to try to get extra incentives into the inner cities and the economically distressed areas -- even when the whole country was in economic trouble. And we set out this empowerment zone enterprise community program under the leadership of Vice President Gore way back in '93.
So this is something that we have done all along. And I have tried to -- I've increased the number of empowerment zones. Now it's twice as many. We fought for funding for them in this budget cycle. Actually, what led to this proposal is that I was asking myself two questions. One is, how can I get beyond the empowerment zone? They help the areas where they are, but we can't put them everywhere; we don't have enough money to invest everywhere in the empowerment zones, everywhere there is a need.
And then the second question I was asking myself is, how do we keep the economic growth going without inflation. You know, I'm not all that surprised that we've been as fortunate as we have been because I believed always that if we could get a good economic policy -- that is, if we could get rid of the deficit, get interest rates down, keep expanding trade and make the right kind of long-term investments -- that technology and open markets would give us higher growth with less inflation than most economists had estimated. I made this argument in December of '92, when we started all this.
But I have been very frustrated that we have not been able to bring jobs and businesses and the general entrepreneurial spirit to some of the tougher neighborhoods and more isolated places in the country. So that's how we came around to this new markets idea. We were trying to figure out a way to keep the economy going and to get opportunity in the places where the empowerment zones wouldn't reach.
Q But you have to compel them to follow, right? I mean, you have to provide an inspirational lead for that. And I guess some of the companies that I noticed, Mr. President, who are involved with this -- Aetna, for example -- seem to get mixed reads from your administration -- yes, participate in these type of programs; at the same time the government is bashing HMOs.
There seems to be a disconnect among many in corporate America, I guess with you personally and with the administration generally. Yes, it talks the talk and wants help and incentives and that sort of thing. But there's almost like an anticorporate environment -- whether it's investigating Microsoft or looking down at Intel, or now going after seven utilities and whether they are violating environmental laws -- that this is an anticorporate White House.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, you have to deal with these things one at a time. But as a matter of law and practice, the White House has nothing to do with the Justice Department --
Q Absolutely. Absolutely. But you can see the theme --
THE PRESIDENT: -- or the EPA decisions. Although, I would point out there are an awful lot of businesses, a huge number who agree with the Microsoft action.
Q Do you think, by the way, that Microsoft is a bully?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that I should not comment on an antitrust action. But I will say this. I've had more business people spontaneously say to me they agree with it than I have say they disagree. So I don't think you can view that pro- or anti-business.
Secondly, if you look at the work we have done from the beginning, from the first day I was here, I think this is the most pro-business Democratic administration we've had in decades and decades. And I think the results show that. If I were anti-business I've done a poor job of demonstrating it, given the -- we've had a record number of new small businesses start every year, we've done a lot to reduce the regulatory burdens and specific tax burdens on small businesses, to give businesses incentives to hire people that were difficult to place, and a whole range of things we've done that we've been asked to do.
Now, on the HMO front, I would also like to say that there were 43 HMOs that endorsed all the principal elements of the patients' bill of rights and asked for federal legislation because they said they could not afford to extend these rights to their patients if their competitors didn't have to. So even there, there is some difference of opinion.
I just simply -- I've never wanted to put them out of business -- remember, in '93 when we had the health care debate in '94, I repeatedly said that I thought managed care on balance had been good for America; that before the managed care came along, health care costs were increasing at three times the rate of inflation. And that was unsustainable.
Q But the irony is now that it's Bill Bradley who's trumpeting that initial cause of yours, and not your own Vice President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, if you look at the difference -- there's a difference in how much their plans cost, but I think the Vice President's plan, even though it's a lot less costly, covers almost as many people. What Senator Bradley has proposed is quite different from what I've proposed, but it's designed to achieve the same goal. I think the American people can evaluate the two plans without my help, and I'm sure the candidates would be able to help. But the Vice President's plan, even though it's much less expensive, covers I think only 2 million fewer people than the Bradley plan does.
Q Could I talk to you a little bit about the budget negotiations, sir? Last night I had an opportunity to speak with Senate Budget Chief Pete Domenici, and he knew I was speaking to you today and he had a message that was not so polite. But essentially he was saying, when you talk to the President, tell him to stop grandstanding; there aren't big differences between us; the money issues are rather incremental. What do you say to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there aren't big spending differences -- although there would be if there are across-the-board spending cutbacks. The main difference is -- you know, Senator Domenici, to be fair to him, has not been guilty of grandstanding, but his party has. Let's look at the main difference. The main difference is I sent them a budget that was paid for. They didn't want to pay for it. They had us spending the Social Security surplus. So instead of owning up to it, they ran ads accusing the Democrats of spending the Social Security surplus -- which is just false.
Q They say they're not.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they say they're not, and they may not be, if they have a big enough across-the-board cut. But until their across-the-board cut they were, number one.
Number two, if I could deal with Senator Domenici and with the House appropriators, there would be no problem.
Q Where's the problem?
THE PRESIDENT: The problem is every time the Republicans make a deal they go off and they go back to their caucuses and their right wing says, no, you can't do this. So they have to come back -- and they have to come back and say, oh, I'm sorry, we can't do this. So we've had a lot of trouble here. So they say, well, they want me to put all our cards on the table.
I've made -- keep in mind, since this Republican majority has been in there, we had one bad year, in '95, when they shut the government down; '96, '97, '98, we reached agreement on budgets where we had their priorities and ours, where we compromised, where there were victories on all sides, where everybody would walk away and say, we've done something good for America. That's not happening this time because this process is being driven for political reasons by their illogical extremists.
Q Do you put Senator Trent Lott in that camp, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: That's something you do to try to force me into a fight. I had a good fight with Senator Lott and Mr. Hastert -- had a good talk with them yesterday or the day before, and I hope we can work it out. I have a good relationship, personal relationship, with Senator Lott and with Speaker Hastert. But they, in effect, are the prisoners of how their caucuses go.
But I think that this is a strategy that Mr. DeLay and others have embraced and announced, that in the last couple days it appeared that Senator McConnell had embraced, for reasons that I don't quite understand, except I think it probably has something to do with campaigning and how they attract support.
Look, we made agreements. Look, I've got a record of this. I've made principled agreements with the Republicans on welfare reform and on budgets in '97 -- '96, '97 and '98. And the only reason we're having trouble now is that the right wing in the Republican Party is taking over the process. And if they'll give it back to the Appropriations Chairman and leaders, the responsible people, we'll make our principled compromises and we'll get out of there.
Q Finally, sir, I'd be remiss -- you have 14 months left in office and you've obviously indicated you want an aggressive last 14 months. You certainly don't want the "lame duck" label and you've fought very hard to avoid that. But I am tempted to ask you, since I talk to a lot of CEOs and what they do when they step down, what are you going to do when you step down?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't made a final decision just yet. And there are some decisions I can't make, particularly ones that related to financial matters I simply can't make until I leave. But what I want to do is to build my library and my public policy center and --
Q Would that require you being still an Arkansas resident? There is talk that you don't want to be a New York resident until that's resolved.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's no requirement one way or the other. I'll be there a lot, regardless. It will require me to be there often.
Q So do you become a New York resident first, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't even know, I haven't thought that through. All I'm saying is I'm going to be -- I'm going to build my library and I'm going to do a lot of work. I'm going to have it be, instead of some mausoleum to the past, the natural sort of continuation of the work I did as President. That is, I want to be a useful citizen of our country and I want to have some constructive role around the world and help people that would like me to help them in however way I can.
Q Sort of like the Carter Center?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I'll do different things, but sort of like that. But it's very important to me not to get in the way of the next President, whoever the next President turns out to be. And so I don't want to do anything inappropriate. But I would like to have a very vigorous public-service-oriented career when I leave here and do something useful.
Q What about corporate boards?
THE PRESIDENT: I've given no thought to that.
THE PRESIDENT: No. You know, --
Q -- $2 million speeches --
THE PRESIDENT: I've got to make some money for my family and take care of them. And I want to do what I can as quickly as I can to do that. But I haven't given a lot of thought to how to do it, because I've got to wait until I'm out of office to make a lot of those agreements.
The main thing I want to do is to have some constructive role in public life that is not in any way inconsistent with the fact that someone else will be President of the United States and has to do that job. But I think there are a lot of useful things I can do and I'm looking forward to it.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
END 1:43 P.M. EST
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