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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 30, 2004

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Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:37 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a couple of brief opening remarks. You heard from the President earlier today. The President is optimistic about the direction our economy is headed, it continues to grow strong. Today's latest GDP numbers are further evidence that the economy is growing even stronger, but there is still more to do and the President continues to call on Congress to act on his six-point plan to create an even more robust environment for job creation.

And here shortly I'll try to move through the briefing quickly, the President, because the President will be meeting with the NATO Secretary General, de Hoop Scheffer --

Q What's his name? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said it. Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer. Do you want to jump in? Is your Dutch better than mine? (Laughter.) His Texan isn't, though.

Anyway, the President is pleased to welcome the Secretary General here to the White House and looks forward to having a good discussion with him on continuing to move forward on the transformation of NATO to meet the 21st century threats.

And with that, I'm ready for your questions.

Q Scott, in terms of the new Medicare cost estimates --

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve. (Laughter.)

Q In terms of the Medicare cost estimates, what do you attribute the difference between the CBO and OMB numbers to? Was there differences in the final bill that weren't anticipated?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't profess to be a expert actuary, but --

Q Well, what is OMB telling --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- you have to keep in mind that these are estimates of something that is very difficult to estimate, I guess is the best way to put it. You have the CBO actuaries will do their job to make their best estimate of what the legislation will cost. And then you have the actuaries over at Health and Human Services who do their best job to estimate what those costs would be. And that's what they have done for our upcoming 2005 budget. But there are some 400 -- more than 400 pages in this legislation that was passed by Congress, and it was a very important piece of legislation to be passed.

But there are hundreds of assumptions that you make when you make those estimates. And, obviously, changes in one or two of those assumptions can significantly impact those estimates.

Q Well, that's why I asked, was there a difference in the final bill that wasn't anticipated in the original cost projection? Has OMB told you that CBO didn't estimate this quite correctly? Or there's a new charge in here that we have to factor in?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's what I was talking about earlier. This is really the first time that we've come up with a full and precise cost estimate because we were going through our budget processes -- the first time that the HHS actuaries have come up with a full and precise cost estimate because we were going through the budget process.

Obviously, we have the CBO numbers, the Congressional Budget Office, which Congress is required to work from by law. And so those were the numbers everybody was working from when the legislation was moving forward. Congress, or the Congressional Budget Office continues to estimate that the legislation will add an additional $400 billion over the next 10 years.

Q But OMB hasn't told you, well, we estimate this cost to be higher or this cost to be higher? They haven't told you where they've found the differences?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think as the legislation was moving forward, that you always look at different aspects -- aspects of the legislation.

Q Because it's a substantial difference in the figure that OMB somewhere along the line must have said, here's where CBO was wrong.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, over the -- if you keep in mind over the course of the next 10 years, spending on Medicare and Medicaid is going to be somewhere around $6 trillion. And you're talking about a difference of about somewhere in the 1 to 2 percent range over those 10 years in the cost estimates overall of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Q But you can't do that, you've got to look at the drug plan.

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about the new spending.

Q Yes. You've got to look at the drug plan here, you can't tell me that we're going to spend $6 trillion and this is only a fraction of it.

MR. McCLELLAN: And let's keep in mind that the President committed to pass legislation that would provide seniors with more choices and better benefits and make their health care more affordable. And competition will help, as the President pointed out, drive down the cost of health care over the long-term. And that's what we've introduced into the mix. So this was a very important piece of legislation to get passed for America's seniors.

Q But why can't you just tell us why the numbers of different?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to answer this, and I'm going to keep moving. I just -- no, I just told you why, because there are hundreds of assumptions that the actuaries make. And so the HHS actuaries had some different assumptions from the assumptions that were made by the actuaries at the Congressional Budget Office.

Q Scott, to follow on that, are you telling us, on the day the President signed it and presented it to the American people, made it law, he either thought it was going to cost $400 billion over 10 years, or he didn't know how much it was going to cost and he didn't care?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President -- in fact, you just heard from the President -- we've been going through our budget process; the budget will be released on Monday. The President was briefed just, I believe it was two weeks ago today when he was briefed on this aspect of the budget and was informed about the new -- or I guess this was the first estimate -- that we put forward the estimate that the HHS actuaries came up with in that budget process. And -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Keith.

Q Scott, the actuaries run numbers all the time, is my understanding. Did the President check --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's why I said -- I mean, obviously, there are different aspects of the legislation I think actuaries are looking at and looking at all the time. But this was the first time that the actuaries came up with a full and precise cost estimate to provide for our budget, as we present that on Monday.

Q But are you saying, then, that the actuaries had no idea in November that the final number would at least be above $400 billion somewhere --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there's the Congressional Budget Office actuaries and the HHS actuaries. And so I would describe it the way that I did just a second ago.

Q Did the President try to check with his own actuaries, his own estimators, did the President try to check with them in November, to see if maybe this would cost more than what the CBO estimated?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President was briefed on this recently, just in the last two weeks. And that's when this estimate was presented to --

Q So he did --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to the President. But the President --

Q -- he waited for a briefing.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- as he said a little while ago, believes it was important to make sure that these reforms were moving forward, to have the intended impact, which was to provide seniors with prescription drug coverage, some 40 million seniors that will now have access -- all of them will have access to prescription drug coverage -- and to make sure that the competition we were introducing will help address the rising cost of health care and make health care more affordable for our seniors.

Q Why in November did the President not want to know what his own number crunchers were thinking?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, again, we do the -- as you are aware, you cover Congress, so we have the budget that is put out every year in February, at the beginning of February. Then we have the mid-session review, where an update is put out. Now we're putting out the budget for fiscal year '05. And when we go through that process, you go and look and you make your estimates. And in this process, we look to the HHS actuaries to come up with a full and precise cost estimate of that legislation.

But like I said, we'll continue to look at the estimates as we move forward. And just small changes in certain assumptions can have a significant impact on those estimates. But the cost -- the overall cost over that 10-year period for all Medicare and Medicaid spending, like I said, is in the range of 1 to 2 percent difference.

Q Scott, as you know, conservatives are particularly concerned about programs like this becoming runaway trains. And the reality is that even with this revision, the President cannot say today that, in fact, the Medicare prescription drug benefit won't cost even more than is being projected, can he?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, actually, if you go back and look at the debate that was had in Congress when this legislation was being passed, this President fought for cost controls in that Medicare legislation.

Q That doesn't answer the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think this does get to the question that the American people want to know about. We made it very clear that we were going to fight for more choices and better benefits for America's seniors, so that they could have more affordable health care coverage. And we made it very clear that we were going to introduce competition to make Medicare more affordable --

Q It could be more expensive than $540 billion, couldn't it?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and this was an important first step in modernizing and improving Medicare for the future.

Q It could be more expensive than $540 billion, couldn't it?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're absolutely right. We addressed the importance of making health care more affordable for America's seniors in that respect. But --

Q It could, in fact, be more expensive than $540 billion.

MR. McCLELLAN: It could be less expensive. The Congressional Budget Office numbers are the numbers that Congress works from. And their numbers say -- they estimate that it will be $400 billion over the next 10 years. But what we know is that America's seniors are going to receive more affordable drug coverage, they're going to receive the kind of modern, preventive medicine that they deserve to have, that will help prevent them from spending even more on health care because it will address their health care needs earlier, before they have to --

Q We know, and certainly your family knows well, given your brother's job --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's not talk too much about him. (Laughter.)

Q -- the rate of growth in the prescription drug arena alone is off the charts. So is it realistic to believe that it could get more expensive to get this drug benefit over 10 years, or less expensive?

MR. McCLELLAN: And when you talk about the rising cost of health care, that's a high priority for this President, it's been a high priority from day one.

Q That's understood.

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why he has a comprehensive approach to address the rising cost of health care. And he has put forward --

Q It's so comprehensive that it could be more expensive than anybody thought.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- a number of plans that Congress should act on to address those rising costs.

Q But he's prepared -- does the country need to be prepared for the fact that it could be more expensive than anybody has said?

MR. McCLELLAN: We know that a government-run system is going to continue to drive up costs. That's why it's important to introduce competition. We know that there are other steps that we have to take to address the rising cost of health care. But this was an important first step for America's seniors.

Q I'm going to take that as a "yes."

Q Scott, staffers involved, congressional staffers involved in drafting the legislation -- I have a couple questions here -- say that as of June or July, the Medicare actuaries were predicting costs in the range of $520 billion to $600 billion over 10 years, and that their access to those actuaries was cut off by administration officials. Is this not true?

MR. McCLELLAN: First I've heard about that, Wendell.

Q Second question --

MR. McCLELLAN: I will repeat what I said, that the actuaries, obviously, were looking at different aspects of the legislation. But this is the first time we've put forward a full and precise cost estimate of the legislation --

Q I don't want you to go over where you've already been.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- based on what the actuaries said.

Q Second question. Did the administration -- perhaps the President didn't receive a full and precise briefing, but did the administration, itself, not have its own estimate of the congressional bill, independent of the CBO's numbers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's the Congressional Budget Office numbers that everybody worked off of.

Q Independent of CBO's numbers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, the actuaries are always looking at different aspects of legislation. So that's the way I would describe it.

Q And no one here, you're suggesting, was aware of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you the way that I would describe it. Again, there are different aspects of the legislation. There are many aspects to this legislation, it's a very complex piece of legislation. And so different aspects of that were looked at by actuaries.

Q Third question --

MR. McCLELLAN: But, again, I repeat what I said.

Q -- the White House is compelled by law to accept the figure of the Medicare actuaries in its budget, just as the Congressional Budget Office determines the cost that Congress must put to the bill, itself. Does the White House actually think that the bill will cost $535 billion over 10 years? Or do officials here think that the savings will be such that the bill will be closer to the figure predicted by the Congressional Budget Office?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Wendell, this is the budget that we put forward and we rely on the HHS actuaries to make those estimates. And so this is our budget, but, obviously, there's a Congressional Budget Office number. We believe that both numbers represent a reasonable range to look at as you move forward on this legislation.

But like I said, that as we move forward you'll continue to look at those estimates and slight changes in assumptions can have a significant impact on those estimates.

Q Doest that suggest that the cost will be somewhere in-between the $400 billion and the $535 billion figure?

MR. McCLELLAN: It suggests that that's a reasonable range to look at as we move forward.

Q Scott, the President has talked a lot about keeping down the cost of government spending. Given this bad news on the Medicare program, drug bill, that he was informed of two weeks ago, what was his reaction? What did he do about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, his reaction -- I think he actually described what his reaction was just a short time ago. He wanted to make sure that these reforms were going to have the intended effect for America's seniors that we wanted them to have. And that was to provide them with prescription drug coverage and to introduce competition to make health care more affordable for America's seniors. We want America's seniors to have more choices and better benefits, just like members of Congress had. And, secondly, to make sure that his commitment to reduce the budget in half remained in the budget. And it does.

We made it very clear, back during the mid-session review, of where the deficit would be going forward. And we are going to cut that deficit in half over the next five years under the President's plan.

Q Just to be clear, in other words, his reaction was not that -- that maybe we ought to do something a little differently, tweak this bill a little bit? In other words, it's full speed ahead?

MR. McCLELLAN: The legislation is a good piece of legislation. And it's a better approach than a government-run system. And we're introducing competition into this system -- into the system, which will help address the affordability of health care for our seniors.

This legislation was important to pass to give seniors the kind of choices and benefits that they deserve and to give them prescription drug coverage.

Q So given this higher projection of the cost, is he open to the idea of trying to tweak this a little bit as it goes forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, when you're talking about the long-term cost of Medicare, that's something we still need to work to address. As I pointed out, we fought for cost controls in the legislation. We didn't get everything we wanted, but we had some important cost-control mechanisms in that legislation. And we will continue to work with Congress moving forward.

Q Scott, when the President was asked about this Medicare issue earlier, he said -- essentially put the onus on Congress. He said, it's going to require Congress to be wise with the taxpayer's money. Is he going to be willing to maybe forgo some of the things he's proposed, like space, like the NEA, in order to essentially pay for this new estimate without making the deficit worse?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, now you're talking about Medicare and then you're talking about some discretionary spending that is there. The budget the President -- the budget that the President will outline will continue to be one that meets our priorities and holds the line on spending elsewhere in the budget. That's why I've pointed out, and the President has pointed out, that the budget that will be released on Monday holds discretionary spending to under 4 percent, and then when you take out defense and homeland security it's under 1 percent.

This is a responsible budget, and it's important for Congress to work with us to agree to that budget framework, and then work within that framework and not go above it. That's what they did in this last budget, and we will continue to press Congress to adhere to that framework.

Q But the deficit is unified.

Q Right?

Q The deficit --

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry? That's why we have -- John, that's why the President has put forward plans to save and strengthen Social Security. We know where it's headed. That's why we know we need to make some important changes that will improve Social Security. We know that we need to continue to look at the cost of Medicare moving forward. That's why I said that this piece of legislation was an important first step, and it took some steps to address those costs.

Q Scott, can I follow on that? If someone told me, in my family's budget, that all of a sudden, oh, a cost is going to be a third -- a big item like this is going to be a third over what I thought it was going to be, my first reaction would be, either I've got to go out and earn some more money fast, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, you're looking at new spending, and you're not looking at the overall spending.

Q Can I finish? Or --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but I want to correct you.

Q -- I'd have to figure out a way to cut spending elsewhere. Did the President have any reaction, and say, oh, we'd better find some budget cuts somewhere else, or we'd better forgo some tax cuts?

MR. McCLELLAN: And this goes back to what he said earlier, what his reaction was, what does this mean for the deficit? And what it means is that we're still going to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Q Do they identify what's going to compensate for this?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're still going to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. That's why the President is putting forward a responsible budget, that when you take out defense and homeland security, holds discretionary spending to under 1 percent.

Q You're not going to identify any program cuts or taxes --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the budget, when he looks at -- when the President comes up with a budget, he looks at all our priorities and says, let's make sure that we meet our highest priorities, from winning the war on terrorism to protecting the homeland, to strengthening our economy, and make sure that those are fully funded. There are other priorities there, as well. And then we need to hold the line on spending elsewhere in the budget.

But, no, the President continues to believe we need to look at these entitlement issues, as well. And that's why he has some plans to address those.

Q Scott, can I follow up on that point? How much of the additional cost for this falls within the five-year framework for cutting the deficit in half? Or does most of it, if not all of it, fall outside of that five-year framework and, therefore, not require any major changes to the budget that you had in the works?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we're going to have a budget briefing on Monday, Dick. I would let you come to that briefing on Monday --

Q Well, but this is important --

MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly. And that's why we're putting forward the phone books of the budget on Monday, and then we're going to have a full briefing for you where we can go through all those issues.

Q Okay. More generally, if this bill had come to the President with this price tag on it, would he have signed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, that's a complete hypothetical because what everybody worked from was --

Q It's not a hypothetical.

Q No, it wasn't at all. Not at all.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- was the Congressional Budget Office. And the fact of the matter is --

Q Okay, if it had come to the President with this price tag, would he have signed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that the President supports this legislation and signed this legislation because he made a commitment to provide seniors with prescription drug coverage, and provide seniors with more choices and better benefits. So he absolutely strongly supports this legislation. And it introduces competition into the system, which will make health care more affordable for our seniors. He strongly supports this legislation.

Q So he would have --

MR. McCLELLAN: The way I would describe it is, we've now come up with our estimate, or the HHS actuaries have come up with the estimate, and the Congressional Budget Office has their actuaries who continue to stand by their estimate of $400 billion over the next 10 years. And either way, we strongly support this legislation because it was right for America's seniors, and it was the best approach to take to help America's seniors have the kind of care that they needed.

Q So he thinks the price tag on this bill, then, he's comfortable with?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there are two estimates you're looking at, both present a reasonable range. And he is very comfortable with the fact that seniors are going to have better health care and more choices to choose from.

Q I don't understand. How are you going to cut the deficit when suddenly that number is X percent bigger than it was two weeks ago?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've talked about it. We talked about how we were going to do it before. We did it during the mid-session review. We'll talk about it again. I mean, obviously, the budget is coming out again on Monday, the new budget for the fiscal year '05 year. But the President's plan will cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Q So the higher cost of Medicare is not going to have any effect on the deficit-cutting plans at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's kind of a broad statement there. There are a lot of things you have to look at when you're coming up with the number, in terms of what the projected deficit forecast is for this next year. But we made it very clear back during the mid-session review that gave you all a pretty good estimate of where this deficit number would be for the upcoming fiscal year. And that's what we're going to address to cut in half over the next five years through the President's plan.

Q There's going to have to be some offsetting somewhere else in the budget --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're going to have -- Roger, I just said, I mean, the phone books come out Monday, we're going to have a full briefing on the budget on Monday.

Q Scott, two weeks ago today, when the President was given this number, he was also preparing for his State of the Union address. Why did the President not take advantage of that opportunity to level with the people, say, Congress has bought a pig in a poke, here's what it's really going to cost? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob, we put out the budget every year at this time, and that's what we're doing again on Monday. The President made it very clear to the American people what this legislation did. This legislation provided seniors the prescription drug coverage that they deserve. This legislation introduced competition into the system to make health care more affordable for America's seniors. The President was very clear in what this legislation did. And we always put forward the budget every year at this time, and that's a detailed outline of all our priorities.

Q And if I could just follow --

Q Your answers lead to a deeper question, Scott, whether this President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob was finishing. He had a follow-up.

Q I will yield to Anne.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

Q This President, does he make decisions on major issues, like Medicare and the war in Iraq, without having accurate information, both on the cost of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, or the cost of Medicare?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I kind of just disagree with the premise of the way you look at it. One, you look at the estimates that you have for legislation like this, like Medicare, and the Congressional Budget Office numbers are the legislation that everybody was working from when this was moving through Congress. And those estimates by the CBO actuaries said that it would be an additional $400 billion over the next 10 years. And they continue to say that's what the number will be.

Like I said, when it comes to making the kinds of assumptions you do with complex legislation like this, that slight changes in assumptions can change those estimates significantly. But either way you look at it, we think it's a reasonable range to look at the Medicare legislation moving forward. And so we're looking at it. But like I said, slight changes in assumptions can significantly impact those estimates.

So we'll continue, as we always do, continue to look at those estimates, moving forward. And as we learn more -- I mean, this is a new -- a whole new effort here for America's seniors. As we move forward, we will continue to look at those estimates and continue to provide the American people with the best estimates, as we go -- as we move forward. The President is always very clear with the American people in the decisions that we are making, and very up front with them about the information that we use.

Q So you would have us believe that HHS never took a look at the estimate for the prescription drug bill until after the bill was passed?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think that is not what I said. I think I've addressed this issue. We'll go back to Bob's follow-up.

Q Oh, so they did look at it before it was passed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Bob.

Q I was just going to ask you a similar thing to what Anne was suggesting, which is, you've had a week in which Dr. Kay's testimony has been sharply at odds with the picture the White House painted before we went to war, with respect to the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And then, in the last couple of days, it's turned out that the cost of this Medicare program is going to be $134 billion more than the White House presented it just a few weeks ago. Are you concerned that there's a credibility issue --

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, that the White House presented what a few weeks ago?

Q The cost of the Medicare program.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is our first estimate.

Q I appreciate that it was CBO numbers --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is our first full and complete estimate. Let me be clear on that.

Q I appreciate that, but I'm saying the President was selling the country and endorsing a program that the country was told was going to cost $400 billion. Now we're off by $134 billion.

MR. McCLELLAN: The country was told that it was going to provide our seniors with prescription drug coverage. And the country was told that it was going to make -- or allow seniors to have more choices and better benefits so that they can have the kind of modern medicine that they deserve. You had a Medicare system that needed updating, that needed improving. And seniors could still choose the plan that they're in now, if they so choose. But now they will have other plans to choose from. And those seniors that didn't have prescription drug coverage are going to see their drug costs roughly cut in half; many will see much greater savings than that. That's what the President told the American people.

Q I'm just seeing if there's a response --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that you have to keep in mind that this is -- and let me reiterate -- this is a very complex piece of legislation. It is difficult work, trying to come up with these estimates. You have hundreds of assumptions that you make looking at the legislation, which had more than 400 pages of information in it. So there are hundreds of assumptions that go into it. And differences -- slight differences in assumptions can impact those estimates. But we still believe that you're in a reasonable range, with the Congressional Budget Office actuary estimate and the HHS actuary estimate.

Q I just wonder if you think there's a credibility gap here that needs to be responded to.

MR. McCLELLAN: In what sense, Bob?

Q In the sense that in these two instances, the White House has painted a picture, at one point, weapons and the cost of the Medicare --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's address each of these issues. Let's take each issue. In terms of Iraq and the intelligence there, that was intelligence shared by intelligence agencies around the world. It was shared by the United Nations. Let's be very clear on that. Do you agree with that?

Q Well, my view is not relevant.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, sure it is; if you're asking this question, let's put the facts on the table. The facts are that this was intelligence that was shared by agencies around the world. It was shared by the United Nations. We had a closed society -- a closed society with an oppressive regime who had a history of using weapons of mass destruction, who had a history of weapons of mass destruction programs, who used chemical weapons on his own people, who used chemical weapons on a neighboring country. And you had a regime that was intent on dominating the Middle East. You had a regime that defied the international community for some 12 years and some 17 resolutions. You had a regime that was a dangerous and gathering threat. And no one was disputing that fact, or very few were disputing that fact going in. And we know, from what we know now, that it was, indeed, a grave and gathering danger. And we removed that regime from power. So let's be very clear about the facts here, as we bring up those questions.

And let's be very clear about the facts that relate to the Medicare legislation. The CBO actuaries made their estimate. That is the estimate that everybody was working from. And we come up with a budget every year. And every year we have to make our estimates. And our actuaries -- it's not -- it's the norm, it's not the exception for them to come up with different estimates of a variety of programs, like Medicare and other entitlement programs, as well.

Q Scott, the $400 billion figure was one the President started out with. It was in his list of principles. Are you suggesting he --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, can you start over?

Q Absolutely. The President repeatedly used the figure $400 billion; it was in his list of principles of what he would accept in a Medicare bill to begin with. Are you telling us he signed the bill thinking, well, it could be $400 billion, could be something else?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he signed the legislation for the reasons that I stated. And he signed the legislation based on the Congressional Budget Office estimate, right.

Q Which he accepted.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Which he accepted.

MR. McCLELLAN: That was the estimate. That was the estimate. That was the estimate that the Congressional Budget Office put forward. They still stand by that estimate, Mark. That's the same --

Q So does he --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, let's be clear. That estimate has not changed. That estimate has not changed.

Q -- the budget is wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: That estimate is still $400 billion over 10 years. That is the -- that is what Congress has to work from.

Q Scott, when he signed the legislation, did he have any estimate, even if it wasn't a full and complete estimate, but did he have any estimate at all from his own people, own actuaries, that indicated that the cost might be more than $400 billion? Did he --

MR. McCLELLAN: The estimate that we worked from was the estimate Congress was working from. That's the estimate that was required to work from --

Q So he did not?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just told you, Keith --

Q So he had no idea -- he had no idea that his own actuaries might come up with something higher; is that correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keith, I just told you that this is the first full and precise cost estimate --

Q I said he did not --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that the HHS actuaries have come up with for our budget. I mean, that's it. The HHS actuaries, obviously, were looking at different aspects of the legislation. And, certainly, actuaries at HHS and actuaries at CBO will make different assumptions, and so they're going to have different estimates.

Q So the answer is, no, he did not know from his own --

MR. McCLELLAN: He just addressed that. He just addressed that in the Roosevelt Room. And I've addressed it previously from this podium. But if we have other questions, let's keep going.

Q Just a quick one. The President was very careful not to answer the question about whether he supported an independent commission on Iraq. Is there any movement on that? Does the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: What the President made very clear was that it's important that we gather all the facts and it's important that we compare those facts with what we believed before the war. He's very committed to making sure that we do that, that we look at all the facts and compare that with what we knew before the war. Intelligence is something that we take very seriously in this administration. We live in the 21st century, where there are many new and dangerous threats that we face. The war on terrorism is our highest priority. You have outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction in this world. You have a problem with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And we've got a national security strategy that is confronting those threats and addressing those threats, in many different ways.

But no one wants to know more than the President. No one wants to know more than the President. And the mission of the Iraq Survey Group is to find the truth, so that we can draw as complete a picture as possible and compare that information that they learned on the ground, the facts, with what we knew before the war. But, regardless, Saddam Hussein's regime was a grave and gathering threat.

Q What is the White House position on --

Q -- the 9/11 commission, which is, if Congress --

MR. McCLELLAN: David is dialing 911. He's got to get his question in. (Laughter.)

Q If Congress will go along with extending the deadline for the work of the 9/11 commission, will the White House go along with such an extension?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that discussions like that you would have to have with Congress and you would have to have with the commission, itself, because these were discussions that were held before the commission was created, or with the commission, actually. When Congress set it up, it was all agreed to that they would work to meet a certain timetable, because it's important that we learn everything that we can from the attacks of September 11th, so that we can do a better job, going forward, for the American people.

Q So if Congress says give them more time, will the White House go along?

MR. McCLELLAN: And so it's best to let those discussions be held with Congress and the commission and the administration, when you talk about that. But we continue to believe that the 9/11 commission should move forward as quickly as possible to get the job done. That's why we've been providing them unprecedented cooperation, to make sure they have all the information they need to do a complete job.

Q Will you go along with --

MR. McCLELLAN: And so -- again, you're asking me to negotiate or discuss those matters from this podium, and that's not the place to do that. We've been working very closely with the commission, to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job. And that's what we will continue to do. And if they have issues that they want to raise, then we'll have those discussions with them.

All right, thank you.

END 1:09 P.M. EST