For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 5, 2007
Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
9:30 A.M. EST
MR. FRATTO: Let's pick up where I left off on Friday. We kept the -- we brought the dog inside because we don't want any -- suspicious package, or no suspicious package, I don't think any of us are going to go stand out on 17th Street today. (Laughter.)
The President had his normal briefings this morning. Right now he just began a meeting with OMB Director Portman to go over some items from the budget rollout today. As you know, Director Portman will brief at 12:00 p.m. in EEOB 450 to go through in more detail the budget today.
The President, at 9:55 a.m. this morning, will host a Cabinet meeting. And we expect the full Cabinet to be there. I don't think anyone is traveling. I think we have everyone for the Cabinet meeting today, so that's good.
At 1:40 p.m. this afternoon, we'll have a photo opportunity with the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion, Jimmy Johnson. We have stills at the bottom for that. And this evening -- I'm sorry, I don't have details on this right now, but I could try to get them for you later if you're interested -- social dinner in honor of Major League Baseball. And with that, we'll go to questions.
Q There's been some thought that the United States has created the conditions in Baghdad that led to this worst suicide attack, because of the slowness of getting the security sweep underway. How does the United States respond to that?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I think General Caldwell and General Petraeus and others addressed the plans for bringing the security plan to Baghdad recently. This is not a problem that's going to be solved overnight. This plan is intended to bring long-lasting security to Baghdad. It's going to take some time to put all of the elements in place and to --
Q What's the target date for that, for full implementation?
MR. FRATTO: I think that was laid out when we laid out the new plan forward, at least in terms of the brigades coming into Baghdad, but we're not putting a target date on when we'll have full peace in Baghdad. I don't think that's the way this works.
Q No, but if the Iraqis say, okay, we've got a problem here, the United States is slow in implementing the system that's going to reduce the violence here, you can answer them, but say, yes, but we'll have our brigades and our additional troops in place by -- when?
MR. FRATTO: Well, first of all, on the premise, I don't think we have been -- I don't think we have been slow. I think the joint U.S.-Iraqi security coordination is being set up in Baghdad this week. The troops -- I would refer you to the Defense Department for when the troops will get there on the ground in Baghdad, but I think we are on pace about as well as can be expected right now.
Q Is the administration doing anything in terms of compensating Syria and Jordan for all the refugees that are pouring into their country?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not aware of any arrangements on that.
Q Are we doing anything about the Iraqi refugees?
MR. FRATTO: We support numerous refugee organizations and activities through the U.N. and what we do on a bilateral basis. I don't have specifics on what we may or may not be doing, with respect to the borders surrounding Iraq. But we are --
Q But isn't it a real big problem now?
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry?
Q They're supposed to be pouring over by the thousands.
MR. FRATTO: Yes, and as I said, we support refugee activities through the U.N. and through other organizations, but I'm not aware of specific details on refugee -- what we're supporting in terms of refugee activities on the borders of Iraq.
Ed. I'm sorry, Steve.
Q No, that's -- go ahead, Ed.
Q I'm sorry, on the budget for Iraq and Afghanistan, there's been a lot of talk about they're being more up front and Congress having a better idea so that it's not emergency funding. Are there going to be a lot of details about how the money is broken down, as well, for Congress? Like, how do you expect that to work?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, I think so, there will be extensive details. I know Rob Portman was on your network yesterday discussing this and talked about the increase in transparency on Iraq and Afghanistan war funding, and funding more broadly on the global war on terror. Rob will be briefing at noon. I think you will see some account-level detail and justifications you haven't seen in previous budgets. I think you'll see budgeting for those areas that are just far more transparent than we've done in the past, and I think that's been welcomed by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Q Tony, is the supplemental sent out today?
MR. FRATTO: I'll have to refer you to OMB on that. I'm not sure of the timing on the sup.
Q Am I wrong to look at the $145 billion fiscal '08 request for Iraq and Afghanistan and assume the President envisions a fairly substantial reduction in the deployments because of that?
MR. FRATTO: I think it's more complicated than that. You're talking about for the $145 billion for the upcoming year? No, Rob can get into greater detail on that. He did talk about how some of the funding is front-loaded, and some of the funding has been used to replace spare parts and equipment. I'd feel more comfortable if you listen to his explanation on what that means for funding in the outer years. But you shouldn't presume that that number is spelling out a policy change in the future in terms of the conduct of operations in Iraq.
Q Not seeing it as a policy change, but it is so much less than the cost for fiscal '07, that it would seem to, by itself, envision a reduction in the deployment.
MR. FRATTO: We've made this point in previous years in presenting the budget, that it is very, very difficult to project costs in future years. Now, they've put a number in the budget that gets us closer to some level of expected spending for '08. Certainly, as Director Portman said yesterday, we hope the President's plan is successful, that will, in the out years, allow us to reduce our budget obligations for Iraq. But we're not saying that the number for '08 is the final number. We don't know that right now.
Q The other side of that, then, is you envision supplementals in fiscal '08.
MR. FRATTO: I'm not making that prediction. What we're saying is that it's hard to say today what the precise number will be that far out and in the following years. But I'll, again, just point you to Director Portman's briefing, and he can get into more depth into that answer.
Q Is it, then, also hard to say that the budget will really be balanced in 2012?
MR. FRATTO: I think our estimates for growth both in the economy and in revenues overall are well enough to allow us to come to that conclusion, that we can target a balanced budget in 2012. And the fact that we have included a fair amount of war funding in those projections allows us to feel very, very confident in that projection for 2012.
Q But you don't propose any war spending after 2009, right?
MR. FRATTO: That's right.
Q So if you're pretty sure about the 2012 on the deficit number, why are you less sure about the closer numbers in terms of --
MR. FRATTO: Anytime you're projecting that far out it's difficult to say with absolute certainty. But I think we all feel comfortable in our projections, even allowing for not having those numbers in the outer years that we're going to get to balance by 2012. We think it's a very, very safe assumption, presuming that we maintain the strong economy and not roll back the tax increases* [sic]. And I should say that we are not -- there is no rosy scenario estimates in terms of growth of the economy or growth in revenues in this budget. They're very sensible, reasoned projections in the growth in those areas. We have a pretty high degree of confidence that we'll be able to get to balance in 2012.
Q Tony, does the administration agree with Senator McCain that a resolution opposing the war strategy amounts to a vote of no confidence that would be demoralizing to the troops?
MR. FRATTO: Look, we're not going to get into the business of writing resolutions for Congress. They'll do that work this week when -- they're beginning debate on the war resolutions this week. We think it's important to support the troops, to make sure that they have what they need, that they understand that they have the support of the American people in carrying out their mission. And we're going to leave it at that.
We've addressed this question a number of times; I know the President has. And the President has discussed his plans for the new way forward in Iraq with members of Congress in just about every conceivable variety of meeting and discussion, whether it was traveling to Williamsburg this weekend to meet with House Democrats, in the Oval Office, in telephone conversations, in one-on-one conversations and small group conversations. We know where members of Congress are on this issue, and I think there's a fairly good understanding from the American people and among members of Congress of where the President is on this issue. We think the plan deserves a chance to succeed, and we think our troops deserve to know that we're behind them in trying to carry out their missions.
Q So is the President not lobbying against the resolutions directly then, because he feels like he's already made his case? Is he calling members?
MR. FRATTO: The conversations with members of Congress, as I said, occur I think almost every day and in many ways. And he's listening to them and he's explaining the rationale behind the new way forward and why he thinks it should be given a chance to succeed.
Q The word on the Hill is that the pressure from the White House is intense.
MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to comment on that.
Q Tony, on Kosovo. Can I ask you a question on Kosovo?
MR. FRATTO: Kosovo?
MR. FRATTO: You can try. I'll try to give an answer. (Laughter.)
Q Basically, the question is, why would you want a new hotbed of extremism in the Balkans? You are pushing for an independent Kosovo, and there is at least a faction -- or a major faction in the leadership of that territory who are basically extremists, who used to be fighters -- Islamic fighters, for that matter. Why would you want a hotbed of extremists?
MR. FRATTO: Look, I think what we support are for countries to determine through self-determination what their leadership is, and we hope those are through democratic means, and we hope that they conduct themselves with principles of human rights and democracy and freedom, and that they promote those things and be part of the broader global community.
Q Kosovo is not a country.
MR. FRATTO: No, it's not. Not yet.
Q So you support those goals, principles for -- right? That creates a precedent. That creates a precedent.
MR. FRATTO: That people should be able to select their leadership?
Q No, that people from the outside, other countries, look at the region inside this country and say, this region has the right to basically stay -- because we say so. And in this case, aside from this principle, which I would like you to comment on, aside from that, it also creates potentially, again, a hotbed of terrorists, of extremists.
MR. FRATTO: Well, I think -- I'm going to do two things. One is, I'm going to refer you to State Department for -- to explain our policy on Kosovo. But in terms of any entity that acts to support terrorism and terrorist activity, we're going to stand to discourage that kind of activity and prevent it with all the means we have available to us. But for further depth on what our policy is towards Kosovo, I'll direct you to the State Department.
Q Is the budget the only issue at the Cabinet meeting today?
MR. FRATTO: No. I think they'll look at a full range of issues. They'll discuss foreign policy; they'll have some discussion of activity in Iraq and the Middle East. The budget will be a big part of it. They'll have some discussion on the farm bill and on the President's plans on energy and health care.
I think we forget that a number of these issues have overlapping interests among a lot of the departments and agencies, so having that discussion around the table with the President is an opportunity for Cabinet members to raise areas of interest or concern and report on what they are hearing out there from their discussions with members of Congress and others. People like Secretary Leavitt, for example, has been on the Hill and he's been throughout the country a bit, talking about the health care reforms, his discussions with governors, and he can report on their reaction to the President's proposals. It will be a broader range of issues, not just the budget.
Q Why does he need another chance after four years of terrible war and so much killing?
MR. FRATTO: Who?
Q The President.
MR. FRATTO: Another chance --
Q After four years of this violence and terrible war.
MR. FRATTO: It's been only about a year that we've had an elected government in Iraq. And we think, number one, they deserve a chance to have a country that can defend itself from terrorism and be an ally for us in the global war on terror.
Q After we destroyed it?
MR. FRATTO: After we've liberated it from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, yes.
Any other questions? Thank you.
END 9:47 A.M. EST