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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 8, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Hampshire

10:22 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, I want to get started. Good morning, everyone. Let me run through the President's day, and I've also got a special guest here with us today, our Deputy Budget Director, Joel Kaplan, if you have any specific questions related to the budget that you want to ask. But first, let me go back to the President's day.

The President had his usual briefings this morning. The President had a very good visit with King Abdullah of Jordan. As he pointed out in comments to the pool, the President also hosted the King for dinner last night, along with some members of Congress. And the President and the King gave you a readout, gave the press corps the readout of the meeting that they had and the issues that they covered.

We're on our way to New Hampshire today. The President's focus in his remarks is going to be on his budget strategy. The President will be hitting on the key parts of the budget strategy. The President will talk about how it begins with making sure that we keep taxes low, to keep our economy growing. And then he'll talk about the importance of making sure that we're funding our highest priorities and most important priorities, like the war on terrorism, and continuing to pursue pro-growth policies, and some of the initiatives he outlined in the State of the Union address, obviously. But he'll also talk about how we need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and spend taxpayer dollars wisely.

And I think one area he'll touch on, as well, is how he's encouraged by Congress's willingness to take up earmark reform. And that's an important aspect of being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. And the President, in this budget and even in previous budgets, has talked about the importance of having a sunset commission to review programs, and talked about the importance of a line-item veto and that can help us address some of these issues.

And finally, the President will touch on the importance of making sure that government programs are producing results. In the budget briefing the other day that Director Bolten had -- and Clay Johnson was also there, and they talked the website that we put up -- -- and how we're holding programs accountable and measuring their progress and seeing if they're achieving their intended results. That's an important aspect of being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars, as well.

So that's really what the President will touch on in his remarks today. And then after that, we return back to D.C., and the President has a few other events on the schedule. First he's going to drop by a meeting that -- staff-level meeting of CEOs from the Business Roundtable. It's a closed event, but he'll be over in EEOB, Room 350. And then he looks forward to signing the Deficit Reduction Act that was just recently passed by Congress. And I think in those remarks he'll talk about how the biggest challenge to our fiscal health is the entitlement programs. They're on an unsustainable course, and this Deficit Reduction Act is a first step to addressing some of those problems. And I think he'll use that opportunity to talk about the importance of addressing those long-term challenges and touch on the bipartisan commission that he proposed. The President wants to work in a bipartisan way to address these issues and find solutions as we move forward so we protect these important programs for future generations.

And then, following that, in the Cabinet Room, the President will be hosting the bicameral Republican leadership in Congress in the Cabinet Room. And this will be an opportunity for the President to talk about the 2006 agenda, the war on terrorism, the economy, and talk about the budget that was just released, as well. And that's really the President's day for today.

Q Coverage?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's a closed event. I don't know whether or not any members will go to the stakeout. Obviously you all will be there to cover that if they do. I don't know if Joel has anything to add, or if you want to go straight to questions.

MR. KAPLAN: Actually, I thought you covered the budget strategy pretty well, but I'll take any questions.

Q Among the programs you're slated to cut this term, even though we don't know what they are because you haven't released it, are ones that reportedly were already to be cut last year. Why have you gone for the same programs when you know Congress isn't willing to make the cut?

MR. KAPLAN: Actually, what we found is that oftentimes Congress will either do -- either in the first year they won't do as cut, but in the second year, after we've had more of an opportunity to educate them and be able to talk to the appropriators, they'll be more receptive to it the second year around. We found that last year. Two years ago we proposed I think 65 cuts or terminations, and we only achieved reductions in 7 of them. Last year we proposed 150 for cuts or terminations, and we achieved some or complete success in 89 of them. Many of those were things that we had proposed in the previous year and Congress hadn't acted on.

So we find that sometimes you got to just keep going back and explaining why these programs aren't working, why they aren't a high priority for the American people. And if you keep working at it you tend to make some progress. And also some of them where we proposed and elimination, Congress takes a reduction. So we come back and propose an elimination the next year and they reduce it again and in the budget world that's how you make progress.

Q The Manchester paper has an editorial today saying that the President shouldn't think that he's fooling anybody, but it's actually a very austere budget. What do you have to say in response to that? It's fairly sharp, you may have seen it.

MR. KAPLAN: Well, we think this is a very restrained budget. Obviously, as Scott mentioned, it funds the national priorities and tightens the belt elsewhere. As the President mentioned in his State of the Union, the real fiscal danger that we have in the future are the unfunded obligations in our entitlement programs -- that's basically three programs: Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. The President took the lead last year in proposing the reform in Social Security. He proposed reforms to the Medicaid program last year and fought real hard to get some of those reforms with Republican votes in Congress, and achieved that. That will be reflected in the bill he signs today.

In this year's budget he's proposing about $36 billion in reforms to the Medicare program over five years, and he's proposed the bipartisan commission to look at some of the longer-term structural reforms that are necessary. So we think the President is going after the places that present the greatest danger and he looks forward to getting as much bipartisan cooperation on that as possible.

Q In the out-years there aren't any accommodations for the war in Iraq, additional hurricane relief, or the effects of the AMT. Is it realistic to think that he can achieve his deficit reduction goal simply with spending cuts and economic growth, and tax revenue that comes from that?

MR. KAPLAN: Yes, we do think it's realistic. For the war, the deficit estimates that are in the budget that we released on Monday include the effects of an additional $70 billion -- that's the estimate of what will be needed for the remainder of this year in Iraq and Afghanistan -- $50 billion as essentially a placeholder and allowance for fiscal year 2007. Beyond that, we just don't think it would be responsible to try to speculate on what the cost of the war will be because it's completely dependent on what the pace of operations is. And obviously, we've got a very fluid security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and a very fluid political situation.

On the AMT, the President has been clear that while we are including the effects of AMT relief for this year, which has deficit impacts in '06 and '07, we believe that the AMT needs to be addressed in the context of a broader look at the tax code, that the AMT is so integrally intertwined with the whole code at this point, that it's not really appropriate to just try to address the AMT in these one-year patches. So we think we can do it; we need to do it in order to simplify the code and minimize the burden on taxpayers. But we think we can do it in a revenue-neutral way.

Q You guys are pushing this performance assessment rating system, which for all we know is a feedback loop in which programs the OMB already undervalues automatically get low ratings. What can you tell us about how this thing works that we can actually trust that this is something that doesn't just dis domestic programs --

MR. KAPLAN: Well, the first thing is I would invite you to go online to It's very voluminous, and it has -- this is -- this is something the administration has worked really hard on over about a four-year period to develop objective questions.

And we have -- this is a year-long process with agencies where we go to the program experts in the agencies and ask them how do they answer these questions. And then there's a discussion and -- I don't want to say negotiation -- but we have a long period of back-and-forth with the agencies in trying to make sure that we're objectively answering those questions so that we have a sense of whether we can actually measure what the programs are achieving for the American people. And once we can -- and we've got adequate performance measures in place, if we see that they're not working, sometimes we propose to eliminate them; other times we propose to -- propose additional funding because we've been able to identify what it is we need to do to fix the program.

So I think most of the agencies would say that although it's a time-consuming and laborious process, it's very helpful to them and it's helpful to managers to ask the questions. Basically, this is a -- it's a formal way of doing what managers ought to be doing in any program and in any business, which is figure out what is the purpose of your program, how do you know if it's working -- what are your metrics for determining whether it's actually achieving what Congress and the American people asked it to do -- and then if it's not, identify what means -- what mechanisms you're going to do to improve it. It's pretty basic stuff, but it's just putting it in -- ensuring that people actually do it, which hasn't historically been done in the federal government.

Q Are non-political people helping to make the judgments?

MR. KAPLAN: Primarily non-political people. It's done by the professional career examiners at OMB with their counterparts at the agencies. It's -- there's a senior political person at OMB in each sort of subject area. But this is real time-consuming, in the weeds kind of work that we have about 500-plus career examiners to do. And the OMB career staff is extraordinary.

So we think it's a terrific process. And I think career people at the agencies would agree, although, obviously it's hard. It makes people answer hard questions about whether what they're doing is actually working and coming up with fixes if it's not.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thank you.

Q On the cartoons, can you just clarify whether the President thinks it was appropriate for them to be published and republished? And what is his position on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is reiterating what we have said previously, and it's important for all of us to do so that are -- in governments around the world. And so the points the President was making was that, one, we condemn the violence that is taking place. Two, we should -- it's important for everybody to promote tolerance and respect for people of all backgrounds and of all religious faiths. The President made the point that we're -- America is a tolerant and understanding society. It's a society that welcomes people of all faiths and from all communities. And we also are a society that supports and respects the freedom of press. But there are also responsibilities that come with that freedom. And the President reiterated the call for all governments to act to restore calm and prevent violence.

And so those are the points the President is emphasizing. And I talked a little bit about it the other day, and talked about it -- and we've talked about it previously within the administration. We understand fully why Muslims find the cartoons offensive. And people have the right to express their views and condemn what was published, but they should do so in a peaceful way. And I think those are the points that the President was touching on, as well.

Q To be clear, though, you don't want to be specific about what governments should do to restore calm? In other words, if they should urge their newspapers not to publish things like this? You're certainly talking in generalities.

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about the -- our support and respect for freedom of press. And I talked the other day about how it's important that people forcefully speak out not only when there's a situation like this and condemn such cartoons, but also when what happens frequently in the Arab world when there are cartoons or articles promoting anti-Semitic views -- we should all be speaking out against those, as well.

Q Did you talk to the President at all about the political overtones of yesterday's ceremony, at the funeral? And if you didn't talk to him, what do you think about it? Was it the place for that sort of criticism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President and Mrs. Bush were very honored to attend the celebration of Mrs. King's life. This was a time to pay tribute to her and all that she accomplished in life. The President said she not only secured the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but she built her own legacy, and she made many lasting contributions to freedom and equality for all. And the President and Mrs. Bush were honored to attend, and I think the President expressed his views very clearly in his remarks that he made at the service.

And I don't know if you have a specific question about --

Q Do you think that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it was a time to honor Mrs. King and her life.

Q Do you think it was an appropriate place for former President Carter and Bishop Lowery to attack --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think others can make those judgments. I think I would say what I just did, that the President and Mrs. Bush were honored to attend. And they feel blessed to have gotten to know Mrs. King, and they're always going to cherish the time they spent with her. The President had a good relationship with Coretta Scott King and he appreciated that relationship very much.

Q The New York Times is reporting that Representative Heather Wilson, who's a Republican, is calling for the House Intelligence Committee to also now investigate the NSA surveillance program. Does the President still feel confident that it is acceptable and legal without going to Congress, now that so many Republicans are lining up with questions about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I don't know that I'd necessarily agree with your characterization, "so many" -- I don't know what necessarily that's based on. I'm not -- I wasn't quite clear from the article exactly what was being called for. It made a general reference to something. The Attorney General briefed the Senate Judiciary Committee the other day; there are additional briefings going on this week for the Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate today and tomorrow. Those are closed sessions. But this is a -- the terrorist surveillance program is a vital tool in our efforts to prevent attacks from happening in America. And this is a hot pursuit effort aimed at detecting and preventing attacks.

And so I think that the American people want the President to do everything within his power to protect them. And that's exactly what we're going to continue doing. And we will continue working with Congress as we move forward. We have worked with Congress on this previously, having briefed members more than a dozen times. And we -- I think the Vice President talked a little bit last night, and the President has talked about it previously -- we welcome ideas that they have, and we will continue to listen to them.

Q Has he talked to Senator Specter since Monday's hearing, to respond to some of the concerns he raised?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe they have personally. I think we -- our staff stays in close contact with congressional leaders on a regular basis. And certainly we're -- as I mentioned today, the President is going to be having some members over from both the House and Senate to talk about important priorities for the -- for 2006 later today.

Q -- will come up?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be there. We'll see. I don't know what members are going to want to discuss in there. But I think most Americans and most members recognize the importance of working together to do all we can to protect the American people. And that's what this is about. And that's why this tool is so vital. It's one tool. We have a number of tools at our disposal, and we are going to use all of them. And the President has not only the authority to do this, but he has the responsibility to do this. And as General Hayden said, it's been a very successful program.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 10:40 A.M. EST