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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, September 2, 2003 (Full Transcript)QUESTION: Scott, as you know, while the President was on vacation, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office came out with new deficit estimates, saying the deficit is going to be $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. Now, the President is out there making speeches in Seattle last week and elsewhere, saying his policies will cut the deficit in half by 2008. When he says he'll cut the deficit in half, is he including in his arithmetic the cost of war and reconstruction in Iraq, reconstruction in Afghanistan, a prescription drug benefit, or making the tax cuts permanent, all things he is arguing for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as a matter of fact, a lot of what you just brought up is in our budget proposal that we put forth to Congress. And what the President has emphasized in his budget --
QUESTION: -- reconstructing Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- what the President has emphasized in his budget proposal -- well, that's a step that we're addressing as we assess what is needed and what the exact needs are and what the international participation will be. But as Congress moves forward on important priorities, it is important that they show spending restraint. That will help us address this.
We also have taken steps to strengthen our economy, get our economy growing. The best way to address this is to get our economy growing and show spending restraint on areas other than our highest priorities, so that we can address that and we can begin to cut that in half over the next several years.
QUESTION: So you're saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: But the President's highest priority and his focus is on creating jobs and strengthening our economy. That's where his focus is.
QUESTION: Fair enough. I'm trying to figure out what his arithmetic is. And it sounds like you're saying, yes, when the President says he will -- his policies will cut the deficit in half, he is including the cost of war and reconstruction in Iraq, reconstruction in Afghanistan, a prescription drug benefit, making the tax cuts permanent.
MR. McCLELLAN: Certainly the Medicare and the tax proposals, those are issues that are put forward in our budget proposals. In terms of cost of reconstruction, those are issues that we have to address as we know what our needs are and as the facts become available to us, in terms of what is needed and in terms of precise cost, to address the war in Iraq. But, yes, in terms of Medicare, that's all within our budget. In terms of the tax cuts, that's within our budget. And if Congress will hold the line on spending -- the President's fiscal year '04 budget holds the line on spending to, I think, 4 percent -- we can address the deficit.
But what's most important is to get the economy growing even stronger than it already is. There are a number of positive signs out there from the recent GDP numbers to low interest rates to housing starts and consumer spending. So the President is continuing to act to strengthen our economy. And that will get more revenues coming in to address that.
QUESTION: Just one more. As a fiscal conservative, is he proud of his fiscal record?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, if you remember -- absolutely, the President focuses on our highest priorities and then makes sure that in other areas that we are showing fiscal restraint. And that's what he's doing. But remember, remember the situation that we have faced, the challenges that we have faced when it has come to our economy. When the President came into office he inherited a recession. Then, as we were beginning to pull out of that recession, the terrorists attacked us on our home front. Then we had the corporate scandals; we worked to address that. We worked to act on getting our economy growing by passing tax relief. Then we passed additional tax relief, which is beginning to be realized and the people are beginning to realize the benefits of that not only in their paychecks, but through the child tax credit, as well. So there's more money to spend and put back into the economy.