The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

  1. President's Meeting with NATO Secretary General
  2. President's Address to Joint Session of Congress
  3. President's Tax Proposal
  4. Social Security
  5. Estate Tax
  6. Presidential Pardons
  7. Secretary Powell's Trip to the Middle East
  8. President Clinton Library/Transport of Archival Material
  9. Plan Colombia
  10. State Department Human Rights Report
  11. The Budget/Tax Cuts
  12. U.S. Army Rangers/Black Berets
  13. D.C. General Hospital


3:38 P.M. EST

          MR. FLEISCHER:  What happened to the front row?  Let me begin with an announcement.  President Bush will meet with NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson on March 8th next week, and that is the only scheduling announcement I have for the day.  And with that, I'm all yours.

          Q    Who will be the guests in the family box tonight?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We will put out a piece of paper shortly after this briefing with a list of all the guests in the family box.  It will have all their names listed, it will have why they're there, their general background, a little bit of biographical information for everybody.  And for the Tvs, we will have an exact seating chart so you know who will be where.

          Q    Opponents of the tax proposal for the Democratic side focused much criticism on the priorities; that the President's plan doesn't set the priorities right.  There's nothing wrong in itself with giving relief to the middle class or cutting the highest rate, but you don't do enough for low-income people.

          So I wonder if the President will have much to say to people in the lowest income bracket, to people most in need?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's plan helps people at the lowest income brackets the most.  They receive the biggest percentage of the tax cuts.  And it will be their point life that they get the most help, and that's because we double the child credit from $500 to $1,000.

          I think -- and also, we lower the bottom bracket from 15 percent to 10 percent.  And I think logic simply dictates that if you pay $2,000 in taxes and you have one child and you just got your child credit increased from $500 to $1,000, that means so much more to somebody at the low-income end of the scale than somebody who pays $25,000 in taxes because they make $100,000 a year.  That extra $500 is nowhere near as significant to somebody paying $25,000 in taxes as it is to somebody who pays $1,000 or $2,000.  They will benefit the most.

          One of the families that the President will have with him tonight will be a tax family, somebody who pays taxes at the lower to medium end of the scale, who is going to receive a very sizeable tax reduction.

          The average tax reduction per American family, under the President's plan, will be $1,600 a year, average family.  That's a lot of money to a lot of people.

          Q    Following that logic out, though, would the President consider making that credit refundable so that people could pay little to no income tax, but a fairly hefty payroll tax bill which they'll get benefits?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It is already a partially refundable credit.  The child credit the President proposes is exactly in line with the 1997 Bipartisan Budget Agreement, which provides a partially refundable child credit and also the health care tax credit the President is proposing of $2,000 for people who don't have employer-provided health insurance.  That is a fully refundable credit.

          Q    Would he entertain making it fully refundable?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President thinks the best plan is a bipartisan one.

          Q    Ari, there is some talk out there that all of your talk about retiring the "eligible debt" is just a convenient ploy to carve out enough money in the Social Security surplus to use it to pay the transition costs for private accounts.  Could you speak to that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think it's the soundest of sound economics to pay down all the debt that is available to pay down, but not to penalize the taxpayers, the government or the bondholders by forcing taxpayers to bear penalties for paying it down even more.  It would be fiscally irresponsible to go down that path and that's why the President chooses not to do so.

          What we hope is that nobody will seek to find new ways to spend more money by arguing against what the President is doing.

          Q    And if I could just follow that up, you said in answer to a question of where does the transition cost come from for private accounts, you said general revenues.  It sounds to me like you've changed your plan.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I've never indicated.  I haven't really discussed at great length where the transition costs come from on Social Security.  That all depends -- and this was my answer to you at the time -- on the exact type of Social Security reform plan that is agreed to. Because the transition costs are totally dependent on the decisions that are made.

          Q    One time when I did ask the question, you said general revenues.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Ultimately, in about 2030 to 2040, there will be a bridge period where there will be a need for general revenues.  That's always been obvious.  But the extent of it depends on the decisions that are made.

          Q    Ari, on the subject of decisions being made on Social Security, what is the President's timetable for appointing the members of this commission, how fast would he like it to act and what kind of parameters is he going to lay out for this commission as it deals with Social Security?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will indicate that this commission will be named sometime in the spring, and at that time is when he will lay out the exact numbers, the details of it, who will be on the commission.

          Q    Does he have an approximate timetable for it to act, sometime this year, next year?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will address that tonight.

          Q    Ari, why take the hard issue last, the Social Security issue?  Why not take -- you know, getting Congress to approve a tax cut is certainly a much more popular thing to do than to propose restructuring Social -- and also simpler than restructuring Social Security.  Why not tackle the hard one first, when a new President is in office, has momentum, has initiative?  Why --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the President's number one priority remains improving education.  And that's what he is dedicated to do.  And we're also going to pay off an awful lot of debt, and we will fight for the tax relief that the President ran on.  That's the order in which we will proceed at the beginning portion of this year.  And the President remains just as firmly committed to getting Social Security done as ever.  But this is the order that the President has decided to proceed in.  He thinks this makes the most sense to build the greatest support across the country.

          Social Security will never be an easy issue.  Medicare never an easy issue.  Many of the issues we will confront with a narrow margin of the Congress are not easy.  But the President has got an order to his approach that he believes will gather and gain the most strength from the American people so that we can take on some of these other challenges later.

          Q    He's going to propose appointing these folks in the spring. How soon does he think that they're likely to get back with him?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will get into that tonight.

          Q    But it's not going to happen --

          Q    Ari, will the commission be charged with finding a way to implement the personal retirement accounts?  Will that be an inherent part of their mission?  And is that a fixed part of the President's vision --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes very strongly that one of the best ways to save Social Security is through a bipartisan idea, and that is the creation of personal retirement accounts so people can have a higher rate of return on the money that they invest, that is taken out of their paychecks for Social Security.  That is a core principle for the President.

          Q    During the campaign, the President said quite often that the Clinton administration did not lead on this issue and, in his words, "we will."

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's right.

          Q    Why does not the President, then, in fact, live up to those words and lead, and put a proposal on the table?  Why must he turn to some other device, a rather time-honored one here in Washington, of a commission for the many times in history past commissions' recommendations are ignored and go nowhere?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I would urge you to listen to the President's words tonight, and you will hear him and see him lead on saving Social Security.  I'll also remind you that the last time Social Security was successfully reformed was in 1983, in good part thanks to a commission. There have been commissions since then that did not work.

          But the trick to commissions in Washington, D.C. is to create the will so you can get the way.  And that's what President Bush intends to do. He intends to invest the capital to get it done, and he will fight to get it done.

          Q    Ari, as you know, there have been a lot of rich people who have been speaking out against abolition of the estate tax.  I talked to some people on the Hill who believe that this has really undermined support for abolition of the estate tax on the Hill, which at one point seemed like it was going to happen.  Is that your perception as well?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, the President is going to fight -- and you will hear this tonight as well -- the President tonight will fight for a repeal of the death tax.  He thinks it's a wrong tax, he thinks it's a tax that is punitive, it's double taxation, and it ought to be abolished.  He will fight to abolish it.  And if you recall in the last Congress, there was a vote in the Congress, a rather overwhelming bipartisan vote, to abolish it.  So we think that will happen again this year.

          Q    Will he address the campaign that's being waged by these rich people who say they don't need it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, he will fight for what he believes in.  He won't address those other concerns; he'll just fight for what he believes in.

          Q    On the pardon issue, thank you.  Senator Lott has indicated that the courts said the investigation should be handled in the courts. Does the President prefer that the Senate and the House drop their investigations of the "Pardongate" situation?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, he has said that the nation should move on and that this White House will move on.  We are not even looking at those areas.  We are focusing on improving education and paying down the debt, cutting taxes, rebuilding the military.  That's the agenda of this White House.  And the President also understands that Congress will do as Congress sees fit.  But his preference is to move forward.

          The President also understands -- he said this earlier today -- that investigative reporters will look at this.  He can't stop that.  He understands.

          Q    Has he asked the senators and the congressmen to stop their investigations?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, he understands the Congress will do what it is going to do and he can only speak for what this White House will do in this case.

          Q    Ari, will he address the question about emergency supplemental for the military on this maintenance issue?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That will not be in his remarks tonight.

          Q    Ari, Secretary Powell received a lot of criticism on his trip to the Middle East from many Arab leaders, critical of the U.S.-British bombing of Iraq, one Arab leader saying that the U.S. was living in a 1991 time warp.

          Has not the decision on the part of the U.S. and Britain to go for the bombing gain support for Saddam Hussein rather than mobilizing support for the old Gulf War Coalition, if that was your purpose?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has made crystal clear, and he could not make it any clearer, that he will continue to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq, and that's what he intends to do.

          Q    Isn't it more difficult now when many of the Arab leaders have reacted to the bombing and are not as amenable to supporting U.S. action in the future?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I think the President has made clear what he intends to do and he will continue.

          Q    Regarding the President and his commendable goal to save money for the people of the United States, The New York Times reports that 625 tons of Clinton archival material were flown from Washington to Little Rock on eight C-5 transport planes.  And my question is, why was this flown rather than shipped slow freight, since the groundbreaking for the Clinton Library is blocked by two lawsuits, as well as insufficient funds?  And isn't President Bush willing to ask the Clinton Library Foundation to repay the U.S. Treasury for the difference between flying and slow freight? Couldn't he address this in the name of the economy, Ari?  Why was it flown?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think in the spirit of looking forward and not backwards, you should address your question to those who make the decisions to fly or not fly --

          Q    Who would that be?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That was a previous administration, I believe.

          Q    Ari, one on Plan Colombia.  Some of the critics are concerned that this sort of smacks of nation-building -- a two-part question:  One is, nation-building a bad word to this President, as it is to some in this city?  And two, is Plan Colombia partly nation-building?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President supports plans to work closely with our allies on a host of issues that make for a stronger communities, and that involves trade, which is something that was discussed during the meeting with President Pastrana; human rights in Colombia as they discussed it; efforts to win the drug war as they discussed it.  The President considers all that important parts of a bilateral relationship with Colombia, and he is committed to those areas and to working with the government of Colombia.

          Let me also just add, there will be a briefing shortly after this on background to give a readout on that meeting, and what I would urge reporters to do on any other questions involved in that meeting, if you don't mind, gather right here in lower press after the briefing and we'll have a background briefing from somebody who was present.

          Q    Could I ask you on the policy -- nation-building, is that a bad word for this President?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I really don't have anything for you on that.           Q    Can I just have a follow-up on a question I asked this morning, which doesn't speak to the meeting, but to U.S. policy?  General Barry McCaffrey had maintained that Plan Colombia was an anti-narcotics operation, not a counterinsurgency operation; was and always would be. Does the President share that view, or is he concerned that the more involved we get in Colombia, the closer we could get to funding a counterinsurgency operation?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that's a good question you might want to bring up at the briefing, post this.

          Q    Ari, according to India Globe, the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have offered that they are ready to hand over Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia if the United States would drop its sanctions, and they have a kind of deal that they want to make with the United States.  Do you have any comments?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me take that and get back to you on that.

          Q    And also, if you have seen the human rights report issued yesterday by the State Department, if the President has seen it, that it's calling on a U.S. resolution against China in Geneva at the United Nations. What will be different this time?  Every year, there's a resolution, but never been passed.  How far President Bush is willing to push this year to bring the allies together to pass this resolution against China?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That resolution will have the support of the United States because President Bush believes it's the right thing to do. And that is why he is supporting it.  We will see what the ultimate outcome is, but that's why the President is advocating it.

          Q    Ari, can you tell us something about the practice sessions today, whether any changes were made to the speech today, what kind, who was --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.  The President practiced on the TelePrompTer this morning.  It was 36 minutes at his first practice, so the length of the speech, of course, will depend on the applause.  So it could either be a 37-minute speech or a lengthier speech, we hope.  (Laughter.)

          Q    No one was applauding during the 36 minutes?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.  Staff behaved itself.  So the speech was about 36.  And the President will practice again this afternoon before the TelePrompTer.  He's doing the practice in the theater.

          Let me mention one thing also on the speech tonight, because this is notable.  Tonight is not only going to be for President Bush a special moment, because it is first address to a joint session of the Congress, but this will be the first time for our nation that there has been an address to a joint session of Congress by a Republican President to a Republican House with a Republican Senate since 1954.  The first time in almost 50 years, which is older than many people in this room.  The New York Giants were the World Series champion in 1954.  (Laughter.)  The Oscar award winning movie in 1954 was On The Waterfront.  Alaska and Hawaii weren't even states the last time something like tonight took place.

          So it is a different moment.  It is a special moment.  It is a new chapter in American history and a new chapter in American politics, and it is a chapter that the President is going to work very hard tonight to set a different tone in Washington, to bring more civility to Washington and to fight for his agenda on funding his priorities of reducing the debt and cutting taxes.

          Q    Ari, is this the sound of gridlock breaking?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll find out.  We'll find out.  But it was a different Capitol in 1954.  You didn't have the rancor, you didn't have the partisanship.  But I do mean what I've said.  I have spent a lot of time working on Capitol Hill starting almost 20 years ago.  And this is a singular moment, and I don't think that should be lost.  It is unusual in American politics for trends that long in the making to be broken.  And the election of President Bush and keeping the House and Senate Republican, even with small margins, is an historic accomplishment.  The first time the House and the Senate -- the last time the House and Senate stayed Republican as long as they have was in the '20s.

          Q    Ari, there was a man in 1954 named Joe McCarthy.  How can you say there was no rancor then?  (Laughter.)

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I am talking about, in terms of the partisanship on domestic issues.  I don't think it was marked the same way it is now with every single day every issue, every bill, every opportunity for gridlock.  I'm never suggesting that in 1954, all of America's problems were gone; they certainly weren't.

          Q    Do you get the idea that the Democrats share your sense of awe and wonderment at this special event?  (Laughter.)

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Ask me after the speech.

          Q    Do you know if this is the first time that he's been at a State of the Union or a joint session?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Tonight is the first time that George W. Bush will have been at a State of the Union or addressed a joint session.

          Q    He was not there for his father?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  He did note earlier that it's kind of interesting that the first one he'll be at is the actual one he's giving. He won't get to listen to it, as he said.

          Q    I just would like -- who was in the practice sessions besides --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think Andy Card was there.  Let me find out exactly who was there this morning.  I'll try to let you know.

          Q    Ari, does the President feel a need now to say something to bolster Americans' confidence in the economy?  Consumer confidence polls have been heading straight downward pretty much since his election became clear.  I mean, has he talked the economy down enough now?  Does he need to bolster some spirits?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Surely you don't think I would accept the premise of that question.  The economic data is continuing to come in a manner that raises worries about the strength of our economy and the President and, I remind you, Vice President Cheney accurately addressed and assessed this issue several months ago.  The economy that we are inheriting is not strong, and the President believes the best way to talk it up or to improve it is to pass his economic plan.  That's what he will talk to the Congress about tonight.

          Q    Ari, when you've paid down all the debt you think it's possible to pay down, $2 trillion, how does the President -- how much do you think will be left, first of all, and how does the President propose to pay the rest?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The remaining debt will be approximately $800 billion, and it will mature at a time frame and will be paid off in that time frame in a manner that doesn't incur penalties to the American taxpayers.  It just makes no good fiscal or economic sense to pay a penalty to retire debt that won't come due for, in some cases, 30 years.  It's bad economics, it's not fiscally responsible and it need not happen.

          Q    Ari, keeping it on the books for 30 years is going to incur a penalty as well, paying the interest.  And, as you know, the premiums are paid to offset that.  So what is the difference?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It's no penalty; it's exactly what people were promised.  People were promised if you buy a 30-year bond, you will get paid interest at this rate for 30 years.  It's an obligation of the United States government and, frankly, I think there are a lot of people, particularly elderly Americans, who take comfort in the fact that they own the safest investment in the world, and I am not certain that they would welcome the hand of the United States government coming and taking those bonds away from them.

          Q    Giving them their money --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, but who pays the premium?  At what price?  It's going to be -- it's estimated that could cost as much as a $100 billion.

          Q    Ari, what will be the policy of continuing to sell bonds?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's a question that the Treasury Department is addressing.  As the debt diminishes, the issuance of bonds, too, will diminish.  It already has.  It has diminished for the last several years. The Treasury Department has canceled auctions on some notes.  And it is a wonderfully new issue for the government to deal with because it's a sign of more good things to come.

          The last time the government was in such a position was one century ago.  It's a good position to be in, and our budget will continue that strength for the economy.

          Q    Ari, the President said yesterday that he would like to return fiscal sanity to Washington.  Under that rubric, exactly how specific is he going to be in the speech tonight about programs that either will not grow very much, grow less than 4 percent, or be cut, in fact?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Under the combination of his speech tonight and the release of the budget tomorrow, we'll be very specific.  He'll have an awful lot of answers to those.  The President will talk about the need for fiscal discipline tonight.

          Q    Ari, on the question of the loss of the Japanese fishing vessel, I believe that the President sent a handwritten letter to the Japanese Prime Minister in the last couple of days.  My question is, why did he do that now?  Why didn't he do it a week, 10 days, even two weeks ago?  And how concerned is the President about the state of U.S.-Japanese relations as a result of this?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President, as you know, personally called Prime Minister Mori to express his apologies and regrets about the accident.  So, too, did Secretary Powell and many others in the United States government.  The Department of Defense has sent a special envoy, and admiral, to Japan who did carry a letter from the President.  And it's a sign of the importance the United States places on its relations with Japan and the sorrow that we feel for the people in Japan who lost their lives, and for people who have lost their loved ones.

          Q    Would you say the President is taking a personal interest in the unfolding story of the investigation of the Greenville and what happened --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, the President is involved in this at all stages, of course.

          Q    Ari, does the President, as Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, believe in combat units like the Seals, Marine Corps Recon and Rangers should be required to accept women, by lowering female physical requirements like they do at West Point, Colorado Springs and Annapolis, or does he believe that ability alone should be the requirement, like the way he once hired baseball players in Texas?  And I have one follow-up.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Les, the President has always believed that the military is well-served by men and women in the Armed Forces --

          Q    In Seals, women in Seals?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And on some of the specialty categories, I think that's a question you should address to the Department of Defense.  And there are no changes in policies that I'm aware of from this White House.

          Q    Two U.S. Army Rangers are reportedly marching from Fort Benning, Georgia to Washington with a petition that the Commander in Chief reverse the order of the Chief of Staff, and everybody in the Army be given their hard-earned Black Berets.  Does the President agree that all soldiers deserve this Black Beret, or will he welcome these two Rangers and support their petition?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has asked the Department of Defense to look into that matter, and that's what they're doing at his direction.

          Q    How does he feel?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He's asked DOD to look at it.

          Q    But he has a conviction on this, doesn't he?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We will let you know as he talks to DOD.

          Q    Is that a formal review of that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not sure I would use the word, "formal," but the President has asked DOD to look at it.  He's going to talk about it and see what the status is.

          Q    Ari, the President talked about keeping growth rates down below 4 percent.  When he was governor of Texas, the budget grew by 41 percent.  So he doesn't have a track record --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It did not when you account for inflation and population growth increases.

          Q    Well, 4 percent doesn't even take into account --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The premise of your question about Texas is not accurate.

          Q    In real numbers it grew 41 percent.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that the real issue here in Washington is whether or not we're going to squander the surplus because it gets spent. And if spending continues at the rate it did in the last Congress, it will diminish the surplus by $1.4 trillion.  By that I mean in the last Congress, both parties agreed and it was signed into law to have a 6 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending.  I heard this morning that actually the figure for non-defense domestic discretionary spending last year was closer to 14 percent -- I'm sorry, last year it was 8 percent.  The average of the last three years was 6 percent.  Domestic discretionary non-defense was a 14-percent surge in spending last year.

          And the President believes that the biggest threat to the surplus is more government spending.  And I think one of the issues that this budget will test, and that tonight's speech will test, is whether or not people in Washington are free to re-embark on another spending spree.  And I do think that this budget will represent the last stand of the big spenders, if we're able to stop them.  And that's one reason to limit spending to the rate the President has proposed.

          Q    Ari, if you look at the last stand of the big spenders, however, if you look at a 25 or 30-year period, discretionary spending is at about a 25-year low, as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product.  If you take defense out of it, it goes back to about 1967; if you include defense, I think it goes back to the early '70s.  What's the urgency?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The urgency is that if we increase spending the way we have in the past, it will squander the surplus.  And the President believes very strongly that the biggest threat to the surplus comes from government spending.  And I think history is on his side on that, especially recent history.  Even in the 1980s, if you go back and look, one statistic I've seen is that revenues doubled, spending tripled in the 1980s, even with a tax cut.  And that's the source of much of the government spending problems and fiscal discipline.  It comes from the spending side.

          And on the tax side, what the President is saying is people shouldn't send their money at the same rate they have been.  It's not the government's money; people ought to get to keep it.  That's his belief.

          Q    Ari, talk about the last stand of the big spenders, those big spenders last year were of the Republican variety.  What's the President going to do to rein them in?  Is he going to veto spending bills?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Limiting spending to 4 percent applies to everybody in Congress, Republican or Democrat alike.  And I haven't been shy about saying that from here.  It's a problem that exists in both parties to varying degrees, but we're confident that we're going to be able to address it and I think we'll find a lot more support for addressing it in the Republican Party.  But we're going to continue to work with people from both parties to get the job done, because I know there are some Democrats who share that concern.

          Q    Is he prepared to veto Republican-authored spending bills?


          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think it's much too soon to start going down that road.  Allow the President to make his case tonight.  We believe that the combination of the President's speech tonight, the budget he'll submit tomorrow, the travel he'll do around the country will build a broad-based support for his budget priorities, increase in spending, paying down the debt, cutting taxes, rebuilding the military.  And that will get reflected in the will of the people, and that will influence the votes on the Hill.

          Q    Ari, on the subject of the President's travel the next couple of days, can you explain to us why some of these places were chosen? Were there particular reasons?  Are there members of Congress you're trying to reach -- say, for example, in Georgia or Arkansas or Iowa, who you think are --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is always trying to reach members of Congress, and he does so in a variety of ways.  Many of them are at the speech tonight to the joint session; others are the meetings he has, such as the one he just finished here with the leadership in the House and the Senate.  Travel to the states, of course, is another way to talk to members of Congress.  When he goes to Georgia, there's a Democrat Senator from Georgia who is a cosponsor of his tax cut proposal.  So there are a variety of ways the President reaches out and talks to members of Congress, says thanks to members of Congress who are supporting him.  And he'll continue to do that.

          Q    So there's no strategic --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have the list of traveling people yet. We'll get that for you once we have it.

          Q    The congressionally appointed control board is preparing to shut down one of the biggest trauma units in the area, the D.C. General. Is the President, now that he's a resident of the District of Columbia, not concerned that this is going to affect 100,000 people who go there every year, most of them poor, most of -- a lot of them homeless, who are not going to receive any kind of alternative medical service as a result of this.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that's a question you should address to the Control Board, but it's also another reason that the President is going to push for his health care tax credits and for the other proposals that address health care in his budget.  There will be several proposals in the budget to help people who are uninsured, who are in underserved areas, and the President will highlight those in his speech tonight, as well as in the budget tomorrow -- community health centers is one of the shining examples the President talked about during the campaign, which will be a tremendous change, a big improvement in delivering health care to people across the country.

          Q    A follow-up, Ari, on D.C. General, that it's also one of the two hospitals in the country that is capable of taking care of a bio-terrorist attack, and that also has national security implications. Isn't that also a primary consideration now, given that bio-terrorism, other forms of terrorism have become more subject to that than previously?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is concerned about terrorism in this country, and he's very confident that the FBI and the other law enforcement agencies and the training for that is done throughout the nation with localities, municipalities, that the United States is ready and can address any threats that are brought our way.

          Q    I just came from a short trip to India, and I just wanted the President to know that the people there -- he's very well-received in India so far.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Very good.

          Q    What they are expecting from him that he could be the first Republican U.S. President to visit India in 30 years, and they expect that relations between the two countries, and I also -- area, and the U.S. Congressional delegation was also there, and they are calling on the administration to increase more aid for the earthquake victims.  And also tomorrow, Indian Americans are having a rally on Capitol Hill for the same reason, calling on the administration to increase more help for the earthquake victims in India.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I know that USAID and the State Department have responded at the President's direction to the earthquake in India, and that's an ongoing effort by the United States government, and we remain very committed to helping the Indian people to recover from that terrible earthquake.

          Q    Ari, do you know what Cabinet Secretary is going to be traveling on this --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me get that for you.

                          END                 4:09 P.M. EST

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