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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 21, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. The President continues to work closely with Congress to accelerate response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, the President signed two bills, and this morning he signed three more. The President believes strongly that cutting through red tape and bureaucratic obstacles is essential to helping people in the region rebuild their lives and their communities.
The President thanks all the members of the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi delegations for their work on these important bills, and for their continued efforts to make sure the needs of the victims of Hurricane Katrina are met, and to also begin the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region to be stronger and better than ever.
He also appreciates members of Congress who sponsored these bills to help people in the Gulf Coast region get back on their feet, including Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, Congressman Ney, Congressman Baker, Congressman Keller, Congressman Jindal and Congressman McCrery. We will be putting out more information on those pieces of legislation here shortly.
I also want to talk about Rita. Rita is a dangerous hurricane, now at category four strength. We are taking it very seriously. We urge everyone in the path of Hurricane Rita to take it seriously. We urge citizens in the path of Hurricane Rita to listen closely to state and local authorities and follow their advice. Secretary Chertoff has designated Coast Guard Admiral Hereth to be the point person for overseeing the federal preparedness and response efforts in the region. He is based out of the joint field office in Austin, Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have been pre-positioning food, water, ice and emergency response teams in Texas. The food and water and the ice and the tarps and generators are being pre-positioned at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. They are assisting with evacuation efforts that are underway. There are evacuation efforts underway in areas of Texas and Louisiana, including Galveston and New Orleans. Military assets are being repositioned, or pre-positioned, so that they are able to deploy those assets as needed immediately after the storm makes landfall and passes that region, that part of the region.
The U.S. Coast Guard, as the President was updated yesterday, has been working to, what they termed, "buttoning down the ports," and that means moving some ships and tying ships down and making sure that they're as secure as possible.
The President has been in touch with Governors Blanco and Perry. He participated in a briefing yesterday with Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin, and he spoke with Governor Perry yesterday. Federal officials are in close contact with their state and local counterparts. The President continues to receive regular updates. He received an update this morning. And he continues to receive updates throughout the day.
Yesterday, as I mentioned, he chaired a briefing on board the USS Iwo Jima in New Orleans, and he heard from the Department of Defense about the military preparedness efforts that are underway. There are a number of ships that are in the region, and they're repositioning those ships so that they will be prepared to provide necessary relief once the storm has hit.
And he also received updates from the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA and their pre-positioning efforts. NOAA provided an update on the path of the hurricane, as well. And the President also issued an emergency declaration yesterday at the request of the Governor of Florida. We expect he will be receiving, shortly, a request from the Governor of Texas, and I expect the Governor of Louisiana, as well. And we will move quickly on those emergency declarations, as well, as we have previously.
And with that, I will be glad to go to questions.
Q Do you have an agreement with Governor Perry to move in U.S. troops quickly, in the event they are needed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Governor Perry has already activated, I think, some 5,000 National Guard troops. He has taken steps to call up a number of -- a significant number of National Guard troops. And, obviously, the Coast Guard and other military forces are prepared to assist as needed.
Q Are you confident that --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I talked about -- the President received a lengthy briefing from the military yesterday in that briefing onboard the Iwo Jima about what they're working to do to assist with the response and relief efforts.
Q Are you confident that the lessons learned from Katrina will be applied in the case of this hurricane?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I might want to point out, too, before I come to that question, too, that the disaster medical teams are in the region. You have nine -- at least nine search and rescue teams that are in the region so that they can deploy quickly once the storm has passed.
Q So the lessons learned from Katrina will be applied in the case of Rita?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Katrina, that was a storm that was unprecedented in size and scope and devastation. It is something that we want to make sure all the lessons possible are learned, and we want to make sure that we know exactly what worked and what didn't work. And that's why we are working closely with Congress as they move forward on their investigation. That's why the President has tasked his Homeland Security Council to make sure that there is a comprehensive review of the preparedness and response relating to Katrina, so we're doing that.
Now, in terms of Rita, I just talked about the steps that we're taking. And we're going to make sure that we are doing everything we can to have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments as we prepared and respond to Hurricane Rita.
Q Well, Scott, continuing with what Steve said, how is what you're doing for Rita different from what you did from Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. A couple of things -- one, the President is focused on making sure we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments in the path of Hurricane Rita. We hope Rita is not devastating, but we must be prepared for the worst. Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as seamless as possible, and that's what we're working to do.
Homeland Security and FEMA officials are working closely with state and local governments so that resources can be targeted where they are most needed. They are redoubling efforts to make sure we have a full understanding of what the needs are so that we can make sure that those needs are met. And I went through several steps that were already taken to address these issues.
Q So that's -- you think that that's going to be an improvement over what was done in Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, in terms of Katrina, we're still focused on the immediate needs of the people in the region and working to make sure that they are getting back up on their feet, that we're moving forward on the recovery, that we're moving forward on the rebuilding to help people rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities. We are determined to learn the lessons of Katrina, and that's why we have been assessing what's been working and what hasn't been working and taking steps to address those issues. That's why we're also working closely with Congress, and the President is committed to making sure that there's a thorough investigation so that we can learn those lessons.
Q Well, can you distinguish what you're doing differently?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I just talked to you about where the President's focus is and what we are doing. We want to make sure that we're --
Q And these are things you didn't do in Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to make sure that we are better prepared and better positioned to respond to Hurricane Rita and that's what we're doing. That's why I outlined the several steps that we are taking. And that's why I just told you that the President is focused on making sure that we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local officials, and that we have --
Q Which you didn't have before, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- as seamless as possible coordination with state and local officials.
Q In other words, better than the last time?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered that question, Bill.
Q No, not really.
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said -- I just said the very words that you're bringing up.
Q Has the President secured from the governors or other local officials the legal authority that we didn't have during Katrina, in order to take action? The President has indicated --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's keep in mind a couple of things. One, Katrina, as I said, was a storm that was one of the worst and largest in our nation's history, if not the worst and the largest. And the size of it was massive. It covered some 90 -- the devastation covered 90,000 square miles in that region.
You had some unique challenges when you came to New Orleans. The landscape in New Orleans is different from what we're talking about in Texas. You have a major urban city in New Orleans that was below sea level, and you had challenges presented with the relatively small number of roads that go in and out of the city and the flooding that occurred.
Remember, the initial storm was the hurricane, and the second storm for New Orleans was the flooding that came after the hurricane. So you have a different landscape that you're addressing in terms of Texas. And so I think you have to keep those things in perspective, as well.
Q But the President has indicated that active duty military has better capabilities for communication in a time of great distress, and there was a lot of problem with police and first responders being able to communicate. So being able to use that as something he sort of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, in addition to coordination, communications is an area that we're very focused on in the preparation and response for Hurricane Rita.
In terms of the military issue, yes, the President believes it's something we need to look at as we apply lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. And that's what -- that's what we are committed to doing.
Q Just so I'm clear, no governor has yet given the federal government any specific authority to step in if certain conditions are present?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're talking about law enforcement matters, remember, the military, by law, is prohibited from -- active duty forces from engaging in law enforcement activities. Now, that is a role that the National Guard is trained to do and very capable of doing, along with state and local law enforcement. As I mentioned, the Governor of Texas has already activated some 5,000 National Guard troops and has them preparing to be able to respond to Hurricane Rita. And so I think you have to keep all that in mind.
But I also pointed out the extensive efforts being undertaken by our United States military. And I think General Honore has briefed some -- on some of that. He briefed the President on that at length yesterday. There are a number of different branches of the military -- I think all branches of the military that had representatives that are involved in the preparation for Hurricane Rita, and that each one of them briefed on their respective areas and what they were doing -- whether it was the Navy, or the Marines, or the Air Force, or the Coast Guard, or the Army.
Q One more, just -- has the President told either of the governors that he would utilize the Insurrections Act if he thought there was lawlessness that occurred in New Orleans? Has he given an early warning?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that that issue has come up. I think that everybody has been focused on the evacuation efforts and the preparations and the pre-positioning of assets and resources and rescue teams.
Q All the lines -- all the lines of authority are set now, right? Everybody knows what they can do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are responsibilities at all levels. As you are aware, one of the issues that -- and this is the issue that Kelly brought up -- is, what do you do in a situation where you have a storm the size and scope of Katrina that, in some instances, essentially, overwhelms those state and local first responders, because the state and local first responders tend to be the first ones on the scene helping that, along with Coast Guard search and rescue teams. So all levels of government have responsibilities.
And what the President talked about last week was one area we need to look at is, when this happens, in a situation like Katrina, is should military have an additional authority or additional role to be able to address some of these challenges, because they have the logistics, and they have the communications in place to be able to come in and help in a situation like that.
Q And they have --
MR. McCLELLAN: The military? Yes. I don't think anyone questions their capabilities and the ability of our troops.
Q No, I mean, now it's all settled as to who does what, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are assisting the state and local efforts to prepare and respond to Hurricane Katrina -- I mean, Hurricane Rita, sorry.
Q The economy has been very strong, but the markets and the fiscal conservatives are beginning to get very nervous about expenditures and the President's record of financial disciplinary -- and I'm wondering if at some point is President Bush going to do something to reassure the markets that he is, indeed, hearing their --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he has done some things to reassure the markets, but it's more important his focus is on making sure that we're doing the right thing for the American people. And if you look at the President's budgets, this President has worked to make sure that we're meeting our highest priorities, such as protecting the American people and funding priorities like education and other areas, while also looking at other parts of the budget and restraining spending.
Since he came into office, we've substantially decreased the growth in non-security discretionary spending. If you look at the year before he came into office, that spending peaked at about 15 percent growth. Since that time, he has cut that growth rate by nearly two-thirds in his first year, to 6 percent, and then has been slowing it ever since. Today, this budget that we've proposed has actually a 1 percent reduction in that spending. And keep in mind, too, that one of the areas which the market looks at are the mandatory spending side of things. We've proposed some savings in the mandatory spending, in addition to discretionary spending savings.
The President has worked to move forward on reforming both Medicare and Social Security. Those are programs that need to be addressed, and the sooner we address those programs, the better. And that's why the President has taken steps on Medicare, and we're putting those reforms into place. And that's why he has tried to push forward on getting Social Security -- or passing Social Security legislation that will make it stronger for future generations, because right now it's headed on a course that is not sustainable and we will be passing on a huge burden to future generations if we don't act.
One of the things he's doing this afternoon is meeting with his Commission on Strengthening Social Security to talk about this priority.
Q So, in other words, he's just going to stay the course, he's not going to eliminate some programs, like --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he's done anything but that. Because if you look at his budgets, the President, as I said, has proposed ways to realize significant savings. And I think you're bringing this in the context of Hurricane Katrina and the relief and recovery and rebuilding efforts that will be needed. The President has made it very clear that we're going to meet the needs of the people in the region. The federal government has an obligation to do what we can to help them rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities and make the region stronger and better than before -- and he outlined that last week.
We also have an obligation to the American taxpayer. We have an obligation to make sure that the money that we're spending -- the taxpayer money that we're spending is spent wisely. And that's why we are working closely with state and local officials to come up with well-planned ideas for moving forward. And that's why -- and yesterday the President was in Mississippi meeting with Governor Barbour's Commission on Relief and Recovery and Rebuilding, to talk about some of these issues.
We also have an additional team at the Department of Homeland Security, under the Inspector General, that has been tasked with overseeing the spending, to make sure that there is accountability for the money that is being spent, to make sure that there is -- that we're preventing fraud and abuse, to make sure that we're looking at all the contracting issues, and that the money is going to where it's supposed to go; and that, in addition to that, the President made it very clear that we've got some tough decisions that will need to be made to help offset some of the costs of Hurricane Katrina.
The President wants to see some offsets to cover some of the costs that will be associated with Hurricane Katrina. And so he recognizes that there are tough decisions that need to be made in order to look at other -- look at unnecessary spending and find ways to cut that unnecessary spending in the budget, so that we can continue to meet our highest priorities while keeping -- while addressing important budget priorities like slowing the growth in the mandatory spending programs and the non-security discretionary spending.
Q And have you said how much or how big those offsets should be?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've offered some specific savings. It's in our 2006 budget, and I would encourage you to look at it because one of the things we put out with our budget was a book on major savings and reforms. That is a good starting point. It offers some very specific savings. It calls for savings of about $20 billion in 2006 for non-security related discretionary spending. That's the tightest such restraint in that area proposed since the Reagan administration.
We proposed 150 reductions and eliminations in programs outside of defense to produce the $20 billion in savings. We also proposed reforming mandatory programs for an additional $137 billion in savings over 10 years. That includes curbing big subsidies to financial institutions in the student loan program that are not passed on to the borrowers. Senator Kennedy is someone who has supported such an approach. It includes slowing the growth in the area of Medicaid. It includes pension reforms. It includes ending trade subsidies for corporations.
So there are some very specific ideas for finding some savings, and that's a good place to start. We also want to look at other unnecessary spending and find ways to cut that. And that's why our OMB Director has been meeting with members of Congress to discuss some of those issues. We have some other officials that will be going up to the Capitol later this week from the budget office, as well as, I believe, a representative from the Inspector General's Office at the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Scott, if the goal in responding to Rita, as you said, is to have better coordination at all levels of government, I wonder if you could talk specifically about what is happening here at the White House to achieve that goal? In other words, has somebody been put in charge of making sure that they're talking to everybody at the state and local levels? How do you reach that goal in a concrete way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Actually, maybe you missed some of what I was talking about, but we kept you updated, remember, prior to Hurricane Katrina and talked about all the steps that we were taking, because it was a storm we took very seriously. And that's why disaster declarations were issued, that's why the President was participating in briefings, that's why he was talking with key officials in different agencies.
And as I pointed out, the President has been having daily hurricane briefings. One of the first topics in today's -- or the first topic in today's hurricane briefing was Hurricane Rita. And Secretary Chertoff was at this meeting, as well as senior White House officials. White House officials have been in touch with people throughout the federal government, and I think that you've heard from the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA about their preparations. You heard from Secretary Chertoff. He was out publicly today talking about steps that are being taken. I updated you on some of those steps.
I also updated you on the briefing the President participated in yesterday, because you had key -- all the key people were participating in that briefing yesterday. You had Admiral Hereth, who is the primary point person in charge of the operations based in Texas. You had Admiral Allen, who is the primary point person in the region for Hurricane Katrina. You had General Honore. You had Governor Blanco. You had Mayor Nagin, and then a number of other officials, FEMA officials, that were participating. David Paulison was participating by secure video conference, as well as Secretary Chertoff and NOAA officials. So that's what I'm referring to.
Q I mean, is it fair to conclude that a big part of this is simply presidential attention -- the amount of time that the President is dedicating to dealing with this, pre-Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked to you about -- I talked to you about the amount of time -- I talked to you ahead of Katrina about the amount of time that he was dedicating to that, as well. It was something we were taking very seriously, as well.
But one of the areas -- one of the areas --
Q Okay, but what's different --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I talked about. One of the areas that people have looked at was the coordination that was going on between all levels of government and the communications issues. And that's why those are issues that we're very focused on.
Q And one other topic. You mentioned Social Security. Most people out there, including a lot of members of the President's own party, say this issue is dead completely. What kind of timetable does the President have for getting this going? And why does he think that, presumably, next year, he's going to have an easier case selling it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I mentioned, in terms of -- well, I'm not going to necessarily agree with your presumptions, but this remains a priority. In terms of the timetables, as I pointed out, we've got a very high priority right now, and that is -- well, two high priorities: Hurricane Katrina, the ongoing relief and recovery and rebuilding efforts; and Hurricane Rita, making sure we're prepared and able to fully respond to the needs of the people after that hits.
In terms of other priorities, there were other priorities. We remain firmly committed to those priorities. They are important priorities. One of the issues that keeps coming up in this room is, what are we going to do to address some of the issues of spending. This is an area where we can address a long-term deficit problem, and it's also an area that we have an obligation to act on for future generations, for our children and grandchildren, who right now recognize that they're not going to -- they're not going to see anything from their Social Security checks unless we act. And it's an additional $600 billion a year each year that we wait, so there's substantial savings right there.
(Interruption to briefing.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Please, a reminder, everybody turn their beepers off before coming to the briefing room.
Q Has he put changes to the estate tax and making the tax cuts from the first four-and-a-half years permanent on the back burner, as the Treasury Secretary said yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not sure he said -- I think the Treasury Secretary indicated what I indicated over the last couple of weeks, was that the President remains firmly committed to the priorities on his agenda. He has outlined an agenda. These are important priorities for the American people, and we are committed to moving forward on those priorities.
We recognize that Hurricane Katrina has impacted the congressional timetable. And we will work with Congress on how we move forward on some of those priorities. In terms of the tax cuts that you're bringing up, I'm not aware of any that are set to expire this year. But keeping our economy growing is a very high priority. Because of our strong economy, we have seen an increase in revenues coming into the federal government. And we must continue to move forward on pro-growth, pro-jobs policies to keep our economy growing and creating jobs. And that's what this President has done.
Q Does the President think there's any need to maybe just take a deep breath and think twice about estate tax reform, or wait until next year to, sort of, see what the fiscal picture looks like?
MR. McCLELLAN: What are you suggesting?
Q I'm not suggesting anything. I'm asking a question to elicit a response.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are some spending increases that we could look at that we believe don't need to be permanent, so that's an area where we can look. And there are number of areas where we're discussing with members of Congress about how to cut some of that unnecessary spending.
Q Without tax cuts?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about the importance of keeping our economy growing. Our national economy is a key lifeline to the region that has been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And you have the child tax credit and earned income tax credit -- those are important tax cuts for people in the region that have been deeply affected by Hurricane Katrina. We don't want to take those tax cuts away from them. The worst thing to do right now would be to increase taxes on the American people, because it would have a terrible impact on our economy.
Q Scott, can I ask you about the President's sort of internal communications with aides with respect to Rita? Is the President asking more, sort of, pointed questions? Is he being more aggressive in his questioning of aides and officials?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he's asking a lot of pointed questions. He's been asking a lot of pointed questions in previous hurricanes, as well.
If you go back and look, I mean, just a year ago we had four hurricanes that hit the state of Florida. And there were a lot of efforts undertaken ahead of those hurricanes, and I think a lot of the response efforts were well-praised.
I think you're bringing up in the context of Hurricane Katrina. Like I said, Hurricane Katrina presented us with enormous challenges at all levels of government, and it was an unprecedented storm. And we must look at the preparedness and response and make sure we understand fully what was working and what wasn't working, and then apply lessons learned from the review of Hurricane Katrina response.
Q You mentioned communications, obviously, is a huge issue and there were certain assumptions made with Katrina, they asked for help and they assumed the help was coming -- it would seem there was obviously some confusion. But what --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who's "they" and --
Q Well, Governor Blanco, for instance, said that she asked for federal help and she assumed that that meant --
MR. McCLELLAN: There was federal help being pre-positioned. I think you ought to go back and make sure everything you have is accurate information, first of all, rather than making a broad, general statement. That's what part of the investigation will do, is will look at these issues and look at the response effort at all levels and so we can better understand the lessons.
Q In terms of specifics, though, is the President asking those kind of very, you know, specific, pointed questions of not only the state officials, but the local officials --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he did so yesterday in the briefing and continues to do so.
Q And I just wanted to ask another question. President Carter yesterday had some very, kind of, pointed criticism, talking about how when FEMA was created under his watch there were three principles that he says now the Bush administration essentially violated, and that is keeping FEMA independent, making sure that there are qualified leaders in place, and also ensuring that there is adequate funding in place for FEMA. Do you have any --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen his comments, but the President and Congress moved forward to create the Department of Homeland Security and made the decision to put all the various agencies under that on umbrella, so that we would be better prepared to address threats that we face and to better protect the American people.
In terms of issues related to Hurricane Katrina, which, again, is what you're coming back to, we need to make sure that there is a thorough investigation and a comprehensive review of what took place in terms of the preparedness and response. And that's exactly what we were doing. The President is committed to making sure that the congressional investigation is a thorough one. Congress has an important oversight responsibility.
They're moving forward on an investigation.
The President has also been moving forward. He has tasked the Homeland Security Council to coordinate a comprehensive review throughout the federal government. All Cabinet Secretaries have been directed to give that review their highest priority and to make sure that they are fully participating in that review. And those are going to be important -- the investigation and the comprehensive review are going to be important for us to be able to apply lessons learned to future threats that we may face -- whether those threats are natural disasters or disease pandemics or terrorist attacks.
Q Are you saying those issues that President Carter brought up specifically --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said.
Q Well, about the funding and the structure of FEMA being within DHS --
MR. McCLELLAN: That doesn't change -- I still haven't seen exactly what he said.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, a while ago President spoke on the war against terrorism. And also he had a strong message for the global body in New York, at the United Nations, as far as global war on terrorism concerned. He also met number of leaders at the United Nations, including leaders from India and Pakistan and also Kofi Annan. My question is that what assurities do you think he had from the global leaders as far as war on terrorism is concerned, and Osama bin Laden?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they passed a couple of important resolutions. The President participated in the Security Council meeting. Those were important resolutions. I think that the international community is united in our determination to prevail in the global war on terrorism. I think the international community recognizes the nature of the enemy that we're facing, that this is an enemy that embraces a hateful ideology and seeks to dominate parts of the world.
And this is a war that we remain engaged in. It's going to be a long-term effort. And we appreciate all those that are part of the global war on terrorism.
Q India still a (inaudible)-- United Nations and Kofi Annan, because there's a new report about to come as far as scandal, food for oil --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have been some reports that have been released. I think Secretary General Annan has expressed his determination to move forward on reforms. We believe very strongly that the United Nations needs to be reformed so that it will be a more effective multilateral organization. There are a number of proposals that we have outlined. And the United Nations took an important step. We continue to work with them to implement those reforms. I think the American people expect that, and I think that the world will be better served by a United Nations that reforms itself, both in the management area, the area of human rights. There are a number of different areas where it needs to be reformed.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Scott, Iran is still talking tough, threatening to resume its nuclear program if the issues -- the United Nations. But at the same time, he says he wants to continue negotiations. Does the President consider that a stall? And is he in favor of sanctions against Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President believes that Iran needs to come back to negotiations with the Europeans. We continue to support the efforts of our European friends. The European Union, earlier today, issued a statement expressing their deep concern about Iran's intentions. We have made it clear that Iran needs to come back to the negotiating table and work in good faith and abide by their agreements that they've made with the Europeans so that we can move forward and get this issue resolved.
And that's what we're continuing to do, is support them in the discussion that goes on at the International Atomic Energy Agency. We've expressed our concerns about Iran's behavior. They have a long history of deceiving the international community, of not abiding by their international obligations. And that's why we remain concerned about their true intentions. And we appreciate the efforts of the Europeans, that I think you've heard a lot of concern expressed by various countries in the aftermath of some of the most recent remarks that were made at the United Nations.
Q Scott, a two-part. First, do you recall when the last time the President vetoed any bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, on a couple of -- let me mention a couple of things: One, as I pointed out at the beginning of this briefing, the President has worked to significantly slow the growth in non-security discretionary spending. And he's proposed significant savings elsewhere in the budget, as well. And Congress has been working to meet the general budget outline that the President has put forward in recent years. And we appreciate those efforts.
Now, the President doesn't have a line-item veto power. That is something that the President believes he should have, so he has to work with Congress on these priorities and these spending issues.
Secondly, if you look at some issues -- let's take the highway bill for instance, the President made it very clear that he would not sign a bill that substantially increased our deficit. We worked with members of Congress, and the amount of money that was allocated in that legislation came down significantly from where it was.
Q Publisher Pinch Sulzberger, of The New York Times, which is now laying off 500 more people after laying off 200 more people earlier this year announced that, they "will continue to provide journalism of the highest quality." And my question: What does the President believe that claim says about the 700 they're getting rid of? And wouldn't it be better to get rid of Sulzberger, who tried for so long to save two editors who refused to fire that monumental liar, Jayson Blair, from Maryland?
MR. McCLELLAN: They're not decisions the President of the United States makes.
Q Scott, besides the President's meeting today with the Senators, how else have White House officials reached out to Senate Judiciary Committee members? And how will this process, this consultation process, be different than the first nominee?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the consultation, I think we intend to move forward in the same manner as we did on the Judge Roberts nomination. We consulted extensively with members of the Senate. It was unprecedented the level of consultation that we engaged in, and we intend to do the same this time for this vacancy on the United States Supreme Court.
The President is moving forward in a thoughtful and deliberate way. He is looking at a diverse list of potential nominees. He welcomes ideas and thoughts from members of the Senate, and he believes they have important -- an important role to play. And he was pleased to sit down and visit with key Senators today to hear their ideas. Senior White House staff -- such as our Counsel, Harriet Miers, and Chief of Staff Andy Card, Karl Rove and others -- have been reaching out to members of the Senate, as they did before, to listen to their thoughts and their ideas on what they're looking for, in terms of attributes and qualifications for a potential nominee.
The Senators this morning offered some names that they thought the President should consider, and the President will take into account their ideas and their thoughts.
Q Senator Leahy suggested that the names were very similar to the last time they had this meeting in July. Does that suggest that maybe you don't have to have as extensive consultations as the first time around?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we intend to move forward in the same manner as we did previously and consult extensively with the United States Senate. That's an important part of the nominating process. And we hope that the Senate will also move forward, once that nominee is named, in a civil and dignified way as they move forward on the confirmation process.
Go ahead, Holly.
Q You mentioned the highway bill before, and some conservatives have suggested that that's an area that the White House and Congress can revisit and maybe cut back some of the spending that was in there. Is that something that the White House thinks is a good idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I don't -- one, we are in some initial discussions with members of Congress. There are a lot of ideas that are being discussed. And as a general matter, I think we need to let those discussions take place. I don't want to get into trying to prejudge some of the areas that might be identified, in terms of spending cuts.
But the President tasked his budget director to work with members of Congress and identify unnecessary spending that can be cut to help offset some of the cost, and that's what we're working to do.
Q As a follow-up, if Congress comes up with ideas for spending cuts that are not on the White House's list of suggested ideas, are you open to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q Scott, Representative LoBiondo from New Jersey, Republican, is circulating a letter calling on the President to rescind the tax cut, which he signed into effect for the people who are going to be rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In light of that, and in light of the need that people have to be working and to be earning decent money down there, is the President reconsidering this wage cut?
MR. McCLELLAN: Which tax cut?
Q The wage cut.
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of tax cuts --
Q No, I'm sorry. I meant the wage cuts, didn't mean to say, tax cuts --
MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, wage cuts?
Q The Davis-Bacon.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Davis-Bacon. Well, what --
Q Which is a wage cut.
MR. McCLELLAN: We suspended that act for the reasons that we stated previously. This will open up access to more business -- small businesses, including women-owned and minority-owned businesses. It cuts through the red tape and helps us move forward quickly to address the needs of the people in the region and to provide substantial savings. We're talking about savings here in terms of spending. That's an important part of that, too.
Q But how does lowering people's wages help with rebuilding the economy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with your characterization, first of all. I know there are some that take a different view of this, but President Bush 41 also issued a suspension of this act previously, to address Hurricane Andrew back in '92.
Q Was it a good idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: We actually talked about this last week. You might want to look back. Claude Allen briefed on this and talked about our position on this and why this was another important area to cut through some of the red tape that prevents us from moving forward as quickly as possible. And it opens it up to more people, so that women-owned and minority-owned businesses can participate more fully in that, as well.
And we want, the President made it clear, that in terms of jobs and contracts and things of that nature, he believes they should go mostly to those who have been affected by this hurricane. And that's something we're committed to doing. So this was an important -- we've issued a number of waivers to cut through red tape and bureaucracy, and this was one of those.
Q Is the President aware that there is a move on Capitol Hill to call on him to rescind this?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're aware that there are people that are opposed to that on the other side of the fence.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q With respect to Davis-Bacon, could you explain why it's so burdensome to require employers or federal contractors to simply submit payroll once a week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I guess some of you want to keep going over this, because we've been over this previously. But this would ensure that victims of Hurricane Katrina are cared for and that their communities are restored as quickly as possible. It will help accelerate the return of basic services and infrastructure to the communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and cut costs of reconstruction. I think those are important priorities. It will also help create job opportunities, as I mentioned, for those in need of work -- particularly opening it up to more people like -- that would include women-owned and minority-owned businesses.
And if you look at studies, they've shown that costs outside of Davis-Bacon requirements cost anywhere from 5 percent to 38 percent less. The cost of this rebuilding and reconstruction is going to be significant. The President said this will be one of the largest reconstructions ever. And it makes good sense to remove the burden of this act from the backs of the taxpayers in this construction effort, and to open it up to -- open up more job opportunities to people who have been affected by this.
Q As far as the timing of your priorities, I just want to make sure. Is it accurate to say that the administration would not be opposed to Congress setting its schedule so that tax cuts that remain in effect this year aren't addressed until next year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, repeat that.
Q Would it be accurate to say that the administration would not be opposed to Congress setting the schedule so that tax cuts that remain in effect this year are not addressed until next year?
MR. McCLELLAN: It would be accurate to say that we'll work with Congress on the timetable for addressing other priorities, as we have done and as we will do. It's also accurate to say that Hurricane Katrina has certainly had an impact on the congressional timetable. And those are all issues where we'll continue to work with Congress as we move forward. Our highest priority remains the recovery and rebuilding efforts relating to Hurricane Katrina.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:47 P.M. EDT