For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 15, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:53 A.M. EST
Q Ari, would you think about making the prior briefing on the record. Who gave it is going to leak out anyway.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you a couple opening statements and some other topics and if you want to take briefing time to go over that we can. But I think maybe that's best discussed from outside the podium.
A couple personnel items that we will have in writing for you shortly. The President intends to nominate Charles A. James to be Assistant Attorney General overseeing the Antitrust Division. And also at Justice, the President intends to nominate Daniel J. Bryant to be Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs.
One travel note I want to give you today because it will impact your lives and the lives of your families for next week. The President will travel to Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week to promote his education plan. So that will be after Oklahoma City. The President will return to Washington, will overnight in Washington Monday night and then this travel is on Tuesday, Wednesday. We are overnighting in St. Louis, as I recall, on Tuesday night.
And with that, I'm more than happy to take questions.
Q Does the President think amnesty is the best way to handle --
MR. FLEISCHER: Condi has addressed the Mexico questions and I am not going to be able to dive into them.
Q You're not going to respond at all on this?
Q She hasn't addressed those on the record, though, and could we get a statement on the record?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was a background briefing on that and I am going to let the background briefing speak.
Q What is the President's position on amnesty, since that is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I am going to let the background briefing address those issues.
Q So when I am writing a story and I want to say what the President's position is --
MR. FLEISCHER: You will have to attribute it to a senior administration official.
Q Who is not accountable then --
MR. FLEISCHER: Senior administration official.
Q But President Fox has gone on the record saying he wants amnesty for illegal immigrants into the United States. Is there nothing on the record from the President of the United States on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you again to the background briefing by the senior administration official.
Q Ari, maybe you should address the reasoning on this since it's obviously a concern. Why is this on background?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's do that outside the podium. I would be happy to. I think there are some legitimate ongoing issues that should be addressed, and I want to work with the White House staff and work with you to make that satisfactory to all. I think I've got some ideas to do that. But if you don't mind, Ron, I would prefer to do that off the podium and I'd be happy to.
Q But the question of drug certification, that goes beyond Mexico. Talk about what he thinks about that.
MR. FLEISCHER: On that question, the position of the President is he wants to work with Mexico and with other nations to fight the war on drugs and do so in the manner that is most effective. There are some questions that have been raised on Capitol Hill about whether the current certification regime is indeed the most appropriate way to do so. And those concerns on the Hill are bipartisan.
So the President is going to listen to ideas that come from the Hill. And you may want to speak with some of the people up on the Hill from both parties who have raised questions about whether the current certification regime is indeed the best manner of fighting the war on drugs.
Q Does he have a particular opinion of his own at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is going to work with people on the Hill on that score.
Q Is it fair to say he is open to the concept of revisiting the whole certification issue and process?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is open to reviewing the legislative proposals that have been made. There are a series of them. This has been a matter of some longstanding concern on Capitol Hill about whether the current regime is indeed the best way to fight the war on drugs.
Q Does that include the bill that would call for like a two-year suspension of the certification while we look into new evidence --
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a variety of proposals on the Hill.
Q But is he open to that one specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a variety of proposals on the Hill and he is going to work with Congress on it.
Q Follow-up on Mexico. Should we expect any big developments, any kind of communique out of this meeting? If not, why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will be a joint statement issued following the meeting.
Q Is the purpose of this meeting to make big policy breakthroughs or is there another --
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the meeting is for the two leaders to get to know each other. They obviously knew each other in their previous jobs. They are both new Presidents and so they will build on their personal relationship. The President of the United States is also honored to be invited to meet with President Fox's mother. That's a rather gracious and personal touch from President Fox and I know President Bush. And also there will be a wide range of agenda items that will be discussed between the two Presidents that are important to the two nations.
Q You say the main reason is to build the relationship and not to break new ground on policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the meeting is to build upon the already strong relationship and to discuss interests of mutual concern.
Q Ari, on tax cuts, the President no longer has to negotiate with himself because the Democrats have put forward a plan that basically totals $900 billion, an approach they say that is more tilted to ensuring that debt reduction goals can be met. And, secondly, Senator Daschle has also come out in favor of some kind of trigger to have the ability to cut off a tax cut if surplus forecasts don't materialize as forecasted. Any reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are other people, of course, that will be listened to in the tax cut debate. There are a number of Republicans who think that the size of the President's proposed tax cut is far too small. We've heard calls for a tax cut on the Republican side of $2.2 trillion, for example.
So I think the President is encouraged by the fact that the Democrats have announced their support for cutting taxes. That's a healthy bipartisan sign, and he welcomes that. We will continue to work with Democrats and Republicans alike, but the President is deeply committed to enactment and signing into law of a tax cut of the area -- the size that he ran on and that he has proposed, which is $1.6 trillion.
Second part of your question?
Q The second part is, what's his position about some kind of trigger that allows for the tax cuts to be scaled back for reasons like forecast not materializing or surpluses not materializing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was actually -- I was discussing that with the President this morning, and he expressed his puzzlement at the fact that there's this notion in Washington that triggers apply to tax cuts, while the whole problem has always been government spending.
The surplus has been reduced as a result of spending decisions made in the last Congress and signed by the previous administration. The surplus for the next 10 years is $561 billion smaller then it otherwise would have been because Congress and the President agreed to increase government spending. The problem is always spending. He does not think it is tax cuts.
Furthermore, the President adds, that the issue is growth. If you want to make certain that we have a surplus, the economy needs to be strong, and that means the economy needs to grow. And in the President's opinion, the best way to help the economy to grow is by cutting taxes.
Q In other words, he's not going to budge, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: That means he's not going to budge. He does not support that concept on tax cuts. He thinks the risk to the surplus comes from too much government spending. And certainly, if you don't cut taxes, that money will be there, and he fears the politicians will try to spend it. And secondly, he doesn't think it's good fiscal policy to put a trigger on tax cuts because it will hinder growth. And it also, as a practical matter, means that you will re-impose the marriage penalty on people. You will re-impose a higher tax rate on people. It means that you raise taxes on people, and he doesn't support that.
Q Ari, should Americans be troubled by the fact that while, on the one hand, the President decries excessive spending in Washington, the basis of the argument for why the tax cut will stimulate the economy is that people who are deeply in credit card debt can pay off their debts so they can spend more? I mean, is that the message he intends to send? Just pay down your credit card debt, so you can run it back up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a variety of good reasons to cut taxes, in the President's opinion. And of course --
Q Yes, but he cites that specifically.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm coming to that. And, of course, in the President's proposals, he proposes to reduce the debt by $2.5 trillion as a result of Social Security, where he sets aside all the money for Social Security. So the amount of debt paid down over the next 10 years is larger than the amount of the tax cut. When it comes to the tax cut, it is notable that people talk about the need, and the President agrees to reduce the debt. And that's true for the nation, that's true for individuals.
By allowing individuals to have more control of their own money, they can decide whether they want to pay down their credit card bills, whether they want to save for their children's educations, whether they want to pay for a vacation or afford a vacation they otherwise may not have been able to have. The President believes it should be a decision left to individuals, because it's their money.
Q Ari, can you tell us about the meeting with the members of Congress, what the purpose is, what they're going to discuss?
MR. FLEISCHER: This afternoon, a group of Republican members of the House and Senate Budget Committees are coming in, and the President, as you know, will be addressing a joint session of the Congress on February 27th and he will be releasing his economic blueprint on February 28th to the Congress. And so the President is beginning that process. He wants to meet with members of the Budget Committee. He will continue to meet with members of Congress, and the purpose of it is to emphasize that the budget he will propose will hold the line on government spending, that the President wants to pay down the debt; his budget will pay down the debt. The President wants to cut taxes; his budget will cut taxes.
But there has been too much growth in spending in the last several years, particularly, interestingly, since the federal government got its surplus. Spending on domestic discretionary programs was really held in line. In fact, in some years, it declined in real terms during the president of deficits. And as soon as the government got a surplus, the wallets opened by both parties and spending surged. And it surged to the point where, unless spending is brought into check, the surplus will be reduced by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, as a result of government spending at the existing rate.
Government spending has been far in excess of inflation. It has increased by six percent over the last three years, while inflation has averaged 2.5 percent for the last three years.
Q He's going to the Hill on the 27th for a joint session?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Evening, is it, prime time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Ari, just to follow up. He's had bipartisan meetings on a lot of other issues. This is an all-Republican group. Any particular reason?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, he will be having the Democrats down, as well. This follows the previous pattern we actually began, having Republicans down and then quickly followed by Democrats. We will continue to have everybody.
Q Can you confirm some reports from senior administration officials that the budget will try to hold spending to roughly 4 percent over baseline, that in between -- between 6 percent which it has been and at 2.5 inflation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to give an exact figure, but I will say that the President's budget will hold the line on spending. He believes that spending has been far too high on domestic discretionary accounts and it's exceeded inflation. There have been government agencies over the last three years that have had 11 percent annual growth in spending and it's one of the reasons. The surplus would be larger had it not been for all this spending.
The budget that he will propose will hold the line on government spending, it will reflect the President's priorities, which means spending increases for the Department of Defense, for example, spending increases for the Department of Education, for example. But the President believes that we can have a moderate and reasonable rate of growth in spending but nowhere near what it has been in the past. That has reduced the size of the surplus and the President is concerned that Washington has been spending too much money.
Let me take one step back, too. One of the reasons there has been such a surge in spending that we hope we can put an end to is what is commonly referred to as the "exit fee." Congress in previous years, as it was negotiating with the previous administration, paid an exit fee in order to be able to recess. There were threats made that the government might shut down, appropriation bills would not be signed and, as a result, Congress continued to spend more money per the request of the previous administration, and that is one of the reasons you had spending at a much higher rate. We think with a change in administrations, one of President Bush's new focuses in Washington will be to restrain that growth.
Q Just to follow up, Ari, the principal blame for this excessive spending you would place and this White House would place on the Clinton administration, not the Republican Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I mean, look at the words I just said: Congress. It was --
Q You said the exit fee was driven by the White House. That's what you just said.
MR. FLEISCHER: I just walked through the mechanics of how it took place. But it is a problem that is well-known in Washington and both parties, as I've said before, do it.
Q Isn't that called negotiation?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was. And that was the agreement they reached. It's a fact. They reached those agreements, and those agreements increased spending on an annual basis by more than twice the rate of inflation.
Q Ari, does the White House have any comment on the opening of a criminal probe on the Marc Rich pardon by the U.S. attorney general in New York?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has expressed himself on that issue. The President's point is that we should move on.
Q If I can follow up, that's not very substantive. What does he mean, move on? We've got a U.S. attorney general in the relevant district that is reportedly moving forward with an investigation. Does he support that or doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not think it is the role of the President to dictate to the independent Justice Department what investigations they should or should not conduct. The President has expressed his opinion when he was asked about the Marc Rich pardon investigation thereof; he has expressed his view as the President what he thinks. But I do not think anybody believes the President of the United States should be the one to tell the Department of Justice how to conduct its investigations.
Q Has he watched or monitored any of the hearings regarding the pardons?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's well aware of it.
Q Has he seen, from what he has been told and what he has seen -- I know he said move on, but has he found anything of any credence or legitimacy in those hearings to maybe say, well, maybe this might be worth looking at a little bit more?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has expressed his opinion.
Q In the same way that he can't tell a U.S. attorney what to do, he can't tell Congress what to do, obviously. But he can send signals, particularly since the leaders are of his same party. Was he trying to send a signal to Congress when he said he wants to move on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the words speak for themselves. He was asked; he said he thinks it's time to move on. He was asked about Congress and he says Congress will do what Congress does.
Q Has he spoken to any members of Congress about it specifically and expressed his --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware.
Q Have any members of the White House done that, any White House staff?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nobody that I'm aware of.
Q When he says "we should move on," who is "we"? The American public should stop, should stop paying attention to Congress --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we heard from the President his overall approach to all these matters.
Q But who is "we"? Who specifically should move on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he was expressing his personal point of view about what the tenor of this nation should be toward those issues. And he can only speak for himself, is what he was doing. And he did say Congress will do what Congress does, and because he is respectful of Congress's prerogatives as a separate and equal branch of government to conduct its affairs in the manner that Congress sees fit. But he was expressing his sentiment about these investigations and about the issue.
Q Should we not interpret that to mean that his Justice Department also should move on and there should not be an investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, one of the things President Bush stressed in his selection of the person to run the Department of Justice is it should be a nonpolitical Department of Justice. And when something is nonpolitical, that means you leave investigative decisions to the professionals to make those decisions.
Q He said "we should move on."
Q He personally thinks they should move on, doesn't he? The Justice Department should ignore this?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, again, part of expressing his views as the President, given the fact that he has said that we will have a Justice Department about which we can be proud, it will be a nonpolitical Justice Department, is they are career professionals who are entrusted by the public to make those decisions. And the President respects their rights.
Q Ari, to what extent does the President's view on this reflect a frustration that throughout the first month of his presidency, Bill Clinton seems to have dominated the headlines as much as if not more than the new President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you the President does not have any such frustration. He is just looking forward and not looking backward and he is focused on his job and on policy and on issues, on education and on tax cuts. That's his agenda and he's delighted to be in the middle of it.
Q It's not just congressional prerogatives that are at issue here; it is, as the President himself has acknowledged, the presidency and the prerogatives and specifically delegated powers of the presidency which are at issue. So he is okay with his own Justice Department launching an investigation which could diminish the pardon power or the scope of the pardon power for his successors?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that the only talk I have heard on that is up on the Hill where they are talking about amending the Constitution. That's the only way to limit the presidential pardon prerogatives.
Q Well, if he sets a precedent that successor Justice Departments can investigate the exercise of the pardon of the preceding president, that will certainly, as a matter of fact, diminish the power of the president.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what you are asking is what is the basis for what the Department of Justice is doing and I think you have to talk to the Department of Justice to see what their basis is. But that is separate and apart from the constitutionally-derived powers that President Bush enjoys to grant pardons.
Q So he is perfectly okay with his own party investigating the exercise of this power by his predecessor, and his own Justice Department investigating the exercise of this power.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's an important and fundamental principle here that the President addressed in the selection process. You've heard him say this yourself. In his words, what he talked about, it's important to have a Department of Justice that is non-political.
Q More important then defending the presidency's prerogatives? It sounds like he's not defending what the presidency is entrusted with under the Constitution.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a separate issue. He's not dealing with the President's prerogatives. The President's prerogatives to grant pardons are given from the Constitution and President Bush still enjoys those powers undiluted.
Q Yes, but it seems that -- the ambiguity here is that maybe his point is the opposite of what Terry is saying, that, no, indeed, he's not okay with his party pursuing this, or his Justice Department pursuing this, because in his words, his opinion is that we should move on from all this. He was speaking as President of the United States, not citizen of America, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: And as the President of the United States, that's his feeling. We ought to move on, because I'm not going to be able to further this any further.
Q Ari, this week President Bush has been talking about defense, and he blatantly, some in the CBC say, left them out, including one member of the Armed Services Committee in the House, who actually is from Georgia, as well, and also a member who is in Virginia, the Norfolk area, Bobby Scott, and Cynthia McKinney, and letters have been sent. What does the White House say about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, in the case of Congressman Scott, he was invited to the event. The only people who traveled with him on the airplane were members of the Armed Services Committee. In the case of Congresswomen McKinney, that was an oversight that the White House regrets, and she should have been invited.
Q Why wasn't she, though? I mean, why was she -- was she left off --
MR. FLEISCHER: It was an oversight from the Office of Legislative Affairs.
Q But do you have a list of Armed Services Committee members? I mean, her name is on there. How was she left off?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to ask, but as I said, it was an oversight.
Q And some say that it could be an oversight because of tension from that last CBC meeting. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q And did you also --
Q That would be a better story.
Q Did you also have that meeting this week on racial profiling by police?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was a staff-level meeting, and I don't have any information on a staff-level meeting.
Q What day was it, or did it happen, or will it happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information. It's a staff-level meeting.
Q On the budget, when you're talking about rate of growth outside education and defense, are you looking at a budget that basically just meets anticipated costs and no more, or less then even the built-in anticipated cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we are looking at a budget that will increase government spending by a more moderate amount then has been done in the past. Spending will go up, but it will just not go up anywhere near as much as it had been going up previously. And no matter how you define it, that is an increase. What's important is the best way to preserve the surplus, pay down the debt and allow the American people to get their taxes cut is to start a new way of spending, which is to have much more reasonable and moderate rates of spending. And that's what the budget will do.
Q It's basically a freeze for anything outside defense and education?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't say that at all.
Q When the Democrats unveiled the outline of their tax cut plan, they presented the case of a single mother who said she earns $20,400 a year before taxes, and she believes that she would receive $117 under President Bush's plan. Does that sound accurate to you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Give me her circumstances again.
Q It was $20,400 before taxes. She says she would get --
MR. FLEISCHER: How many children?
Q She has one.
MR. FLEISCHER: And is she married?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. The source of the tax cut would derive, for her, from increasing the child credit from $500 to $1,000. It would also derive from lowering the rate -- she's in the 15-percent bracket -- lowering her rate from 15 percent to 10 percent. Those would be the two principal areas in there. Of course, if she gave money to charities, she could now have that as a deduction. If she did not have employee-provided health care, she would be eligible for a tax credit of up to $2,000 under the President's budget. So there are other circumstances you have to ask. I think that's probably the singular biggest one. If she does not have employee-provided health care, she would have a $2,000 tax credit from the administration, depending on her circumstances.
Q Ari, this women was came to -- at the press conference, and she was standing there with John Corzine, who said he's going to get $1 million and he doesn't need it. And she said, well, I'd like to have a little of that. Can the administration hold to this, or do you have to ultimately try to give this woman a little bit more out of this tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, our viewpoint, in terms of what Senator Corzine had said is, if you don't cut the taxes, the money is going to be spent, and that's an important philosophical point the President is making. Now, the President has proposed a budget that helps people from all walks of life. And it is a tax cut that is designed to help the income taxpayers and all Americans so they can have a piece of their tax money back.
Q Well, my question is, is he open to perhaps moving it down the scale a little bit, so this woman --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to fight for the plan that he ran on. And that plan means reducing and simplifying the current five-rate structure to a four-rate structure; lowering that bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent so that she can be helped; doubling the child credit so she can be helped; health care tax credits so that she can be helped.
But he also believes very strongly that nobody in this country should be forced to pay more than one-third of their income in taxes. His budget will focus on that, his tax cut priorities will.
And one other reminder. One of the reasons that this surplus is growing in recent years is because income tax receipts are up. It's not payroll tax receipts. Payroll taxes are coming in just as projected. But every year, income tax receipts have gone up faster than anticipated. So one of the principal drivers of the size of the surplus, the growing surplus, is income tax receipts.
Q But he would be opposed to adjusting it so this woman gets --
MR. FLEISCHER: He's going to fight for the plan that he ran on. His plan helps that taxpayer and many taxpayers in the lowest end of the income brackets.
Q You said in response to Mark's question, the President is not frustrated by the amount of press coverage former President Clinton has received. I'm wondering if actually the White House views it as a net plus, politically. You don't operate in a political vacuum. As you press your legislative agenda forward, does the White House detect any particular advantage this White House is gaining for all the controversy surrounding its most recent occupant?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I think this White House has been very consistent about the question that we're looking forward and not backward. We're not dwelling on those issues.
Q As you look forward, you are obviously looking at polling data and assessments of Democrats, assessments of the general atmosphere on the Hill. Are those calculations in any way affecting your outlook?
MR. FLEISCHER: We are just looking forward and the President's agenda is focused on the policies.
Q On the submarine accident, Ari, there is a report that some of the civilians who were on board were GOP donors and were being rewarded for their contributions during the last campaign. Can you tell us whether or not any of the people who were on that sub, any of the civilians, were given that ride because of their contributions during the election cycle? And can you tell us whether any of them were GOP donors?
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw that story and I dismiss it as nonsense. I don't know their contribution histories, whether they were donors to the Democrats or Republicans. The only thing I do know from reading media accounts is they were donors to what I believe was a war memorial in Hawaii. So there may have been some confusion over that. But I saw that story and I dismiss it. That is not the way this White House does its business.
Q Why not release the list of those who were on board?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen any such list. Nobody in the White House that I'm aware of -- and I've talked to many people -- has seen any such list. I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q The White House clearly trumps the Defense Department. If you tell them to release the list, they're going to release it.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the Defense Department is taking the review -- undertaking the review of the incident, and we will see what the Defense Department determines was the cause of the incident. But that's part of their review.
Q Ari, a question about judges real quick. Some Republican senators are circulating a letter to try to get Slade Gorton a judicial nomination. And, secondly, can you tell me if judicial selections will come mainly out of the White House or the Justice Department?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to comment, as you know, on the specifics of it. Let me take the question as far as the whole process for judicial selections. Let me find out.
Q That's a very important item for them. That's something they're looking for in particular from the Bush White House is conservative judges.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q A Middle East question? Is the President discouraged by the fact that statesmanship and diplomacy has not worked at all in the Middle East right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard the President's sentiments that he expressed prior to his departure for West Virginia. And I would remind you of the President's words that you heard also in the background briefing prior to my briefing, about discouraging the cycle of violence and that it will not help anybody in terms of a negotiating position.
Q Senator Jeffords said that the tax plan is too expensive and seems to come out against it. There is some concern that other moderate Republicans may follow. What is your response to that, how concerned are you about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, and Senator Miller said that he supports the size of the tax cut. And so I think what you are seeing is part and parcel of the legislative process. There will be some who are with us, some who are against us, and we are going to continue to work with one and all so that on that important day we can have 50 votes or 50 plus one votes or even more than that, if we're able.
Q Doesn't that indicate that you are going to have to decrease the price tag on that with many of the Democrats, much less now even some Republicans saying it's too much?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it just indicates that the legislative process is beginning. And as you all know from covering legislative processes before, we work with everybody and continue to have conversations with people. This is the very beginning of a process that we think is going to result in substantial tax relief close to if not exactly what the President proposed.
Q Ari, on the three parts of your tax cut, the marginal cut, the marriage penalty and the estate tax, would you say that the estate tax is the last priority among those three, and is the one most easily separated from the other tax cuts?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would not say that, and I'm glad you raised that. I've noted that there has been some discussion about the death tax, and I assure you, President Bush is deeply committed to the repeal and elimination of the death tax, just as he ran on. And that is what he proposed. It was in the package when it was sent up to the Hill. I remind you it was on the front page of the executive summary advocating repeal of death taxes. It was contained in a big section within the submission to the Hill. The President believes that the death tax should be abolished.
Q He's also said that he's open to seeing it divided up, depending on how Congress operates, and also open to seeing it retroactive. So I assume he wouldn't oppose it if that were separated from one or the other two. And also, there are lots of estimates of very expensive costs for making a tax cut retroactive. Does the White House have any view or any ideas for making it retroactive that do not cost several billion dollars?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first part of your question, the President views that as issue of legislative tactics and, therefore, he has told the Hill that the House needs to figure out the order in which it wants to proceed with the tax bill. The Senate will figure out the order it wants to proceed. The President will be very pleased to sign it in pieces or in one comprehensive bill, so long as it all adds up to the proposal that he made.
On the second piece, about retroactivity, it all depends on a series of decisions that get made, that would drive the cost of retroactivity in the first year. And they all deal with the phase-ins and at what point you phase things in, how slow do you phase things in, how fast do you phase things in. So you can have a tremendous discrepancy in what those estimates are for fiscal year 2001. And until decisions are made, no one is in a position to give you accurate numbers.
Q But if Congress does it in a way that's very expensive, wouldn't you have to subtract that from the overall price, because the President is determined to keep it --
MR. FLEISCHER: Whatever the price tag is, it will be reflected in the final package. There is a cost to retroactivity, unquestionable.
Q Back on the sub, does the President think it is an appropriate and safe procedure to have civilians at the controls of a nuclear sub, taking it on a joy ride?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is waiting for the report to come back from the DOD. They are reviewing the accident, and I think that's something they're going to address. And the President will wait to hear the report from DOD.
Q Any reaction when he found out that there were civilians at the controls -- monitored, but at the controls of the sub?
MR. FLEISCHER: His first reaction was sympathy for the Japanese people and for the victims of the accident. And the rest he's going to wait for DOD.
Q Is he curious about how you get into those seats, about what the selection procedure is for civilians to take that joy ride?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, he's going to wait for DOD to issue its report.
Q President Pastrana announced yesterday he will be visiting Washington. Is this a sign of support from the White House to the fact that Pastrana has gotten ahead with the conversations with the rebels -- a signal that the U.S. is going to go all out to back Colombia?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will meet with President Pastrana on the 27th. I issued a statement yesterday in regard to the meeting, and that statement encompasses what the President's viewpoint is.
Q In response to Jim's question about GOP donors, you said you dismiss it as nonsense. You dismiss it because you know for a fact that it is untrue, or you dismiss it because you're trying to bury it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question implied that the White House would use a submarine to raise money, and I dismiss that as nonsense. I said I haven't seen the list; I don't know whether people are Republican donors or Democrat donors, but the suggestion that somebody would be selling seats on a submarine to donors is nonsensical.
Q Air, a follow-up on the sub. Coast Guard officials in Hawaii are considering now calling off the search operation at the end of the day. Is that consistent with what the President plans to do in his conversation with Prime Minister Mori?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President expressed to the Prime Minister, as I said earlier, his sympathies, and said we'll continue to work with the Japanese government on the rescue mission. And our officials have been in touch, DOD officials have been in touch with Japanese officials, and it is consistent. Q Did not the President tell Prime Minister Mori that everything the U.S. could do to find and recover those who perished in the boating accident would be done?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President expressed the sentiment that we would do everything we could do, and we're currently discussing with the government of Japan at the Pentagon level what can be done.
Q Have you fixed a date on the meeting for President Bush and Prime Minister Mori?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we have not yet.
Q Does the incident impact the scheduling of that meeting in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, when we have announcements to be made about when meetings take place, we will announce them. We have nothing to announce right now.
Q Senator Grassley, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, indicated that he wants to do just a prescription drug proposal for Medicare this year, and maybe put off until later comprehensive reform. Does the President agree that maybe you should wait with the more comprehensive solution?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains committed to a comprehensive reform of Medicare. He does think it's important. He thinks it's important to give seniors prescription drugs in the context of comprehensive reform.
Q My question is more on timing, though. I know he's committed to that, and probably Grassley is, too, but does the President think it should be done this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll work with the Hill on the exact timing issues.
Q -- last night on West Wing, the TV show? It was about Colombia and the possibility of being kidnapped and Black Hawks turned down and everything that might happen in Colombia. And especially when the President is coming and Colombia is being called one of the biggest challenges for the Bush administration, what do you have to say other than the President is coming to visit President Bush?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is your question premised on West Wing? (Laughter.) I did catch the final 15 minutes of it last night. Let me ask you to address that to Mary Ellen, if you don't mind.
Q Ari, when you referred before to some departments that had their spending go up 11 percent over the past few years, could you be specific, and can you tell us, are those departments that will now see their spending come down?
MR. FLEISCHER: You will receive all the numbers from us at the time of the budget submission. And I can -- I'd be happy -- I didn't bring it with me, but I will be happy to walk you through which agencies did have spending increases over those last three years, and what their levels were. I'd be more then happy. I can take that up any time you want.
Q Ari, we're talking about triggers with the budget. Congress, as I recall, had triggers on it back in the '80s, which were routinely ignored -- I think it was Graham-Rudman -- were routinely ignored. Is the President going to set his own triggers by which he will not accept further spending from Capitol Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's part of the meeting today. That's part of the budget submission he will make. And that's why the President is dedicated to making sure that this town holds the line on spending. And that -- discipline itself is a trigger. The ability for Congress to refrain from opening up the tax payer's wallets to more spending, it itself is a trigger.
And you raised a very valid point. Graham-Rudman-Hollings was, in essence, an approach based on deficit projections of what government had to do to bring deficits into certain lines. And it lead to a lot of gimmickry, and to other issues that were complicating the process of government. But I refer you to what I said earlier today, about where the President sees the risk is really in spending, not tax cuts.
Q So is his caucus with the members of Congress today to try to give them a talking-to about once I send you this budget, don't add to it or -- is that the message he's trying to deliver?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will begin the process of making the case for the budget that he's going to submit to the Hill. It's a budget, as I indicated earlier, that pays down the debt, that cuts taxes, that holds the line on spending. And it's important to work with the people responsible for it, to share his ideas with them, to hear their ideas. It's going to be hard. This town was built to spend and the President is going to try to slow that down and stop that.
Q Let me ask you, since we are not likely to see you tomorrow and I don't know about Monday, about travel next week, the states he's going to visit, what kinds of things is he doing to sell the education package and how much of his travel is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to try to address some of those things tomorrow.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see you.
Q Has the President imposed a dress code yet on White House staff and does it prohibit female White House workers from wearing pantsuits?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President did suggest to men that if you're going to enter the Oval Office, you should be wearing a tie. And that's something we all proudly do. But, no, there is nothing more than that. Andy Card suggested jeans are not appropriate to be worn in the West Wing and we all adhere to that.
Q Why was the Reagan birthday resolution signed today, signed nine days after his birthday? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think we had 10 days to sign it.
Q Did it just get sent late, is that what it was?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's all careful timing.
Q Just now announced, though, right?
Q If I can try to go back one last time to Mary Jo White's investigation, would you characterize the President's attitude toward that investigation --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we've exhausted this topic.
Q Let me try one last time. Is his position hands off or tilted negative?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is nothing further I am going to contribute on that. I think we've been there and addressed it fully.
END 12:30 P.M. EST