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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 2, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me begin with a few announcements. Foreign visitor. President Bush and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will meet at the White House on March 16th on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. They will mark the enormous contributions to America made by the Irish people. The two leaders will review ongoing ties, including the strong interest of the United States in supporting the Northern Ireland peace process.
Personnel. President Bush today announced his intention to nominate two individuals to serve in his administration. We'll have the paper out on this shortly. The President intends to nominate Chris Spear to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy and he intends to nominate John B. Taylor to be Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.
And with that, I'm all yours.
Q On the alternative minimum tax, what is the President proposing to do about a problem that a lot of people in Congress are looking at, and say will be exacerbated considerably by the President's tax proposal, that more people will fall under the alternative minimum tax, and it's expensive to fix.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is concerned about the alternative minimum tax, and that is why his proposal includes $60 billion worth of relief from the alternative minimum tax. He does that -- that way, people who receive the benefit of the new child credit, going from $500 to $1,000, will not lose it, particularly for middle-income Americans, will not lose it.
The alternative minimum tax is a problem that will confront policy makers increasingly in later years, and that is why the President believes very strongly that after this tax package is taken care of, he will want to work with the Congress in taking a look at subsequent tax packages to address AMT.
Q So, what the White House is telling the American people is, $1.6 trillion isn't enough to fix the tax cut.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I do find it notable that many people on the Hill who are criticizing the President's plan for being too big -- will very quickly say, but then we need to add $200 billion to it to address the alternative minimum tax problem.
Q But we do, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: And it's a problem that's going to grow over time. Right now, the alternative minimum tax problem is predominantly a problem for more upper-income taxpayers than middle-income taxpayers. And that's why the President's proposal addresses it for those middle income taxpayers by taking into account the effect of the AMT on child credit. And that's why he has $60 billion worth of relief in there.
The basic problem with the AMT is it wasn't indexed when it was increased in 1993, in the Tax Act of 1993. That's the principal cause of the growing AMT problem. The biggest problem the AMT will create is still somewhat down the road, in terms of the number of years. Each year, an increasing number of Americans will fall into the AMT problem. And that's why the President addresses it now, with $60 billion this year, and he is willing to work with the Congress subsequent to that.
Q One more question. Would it be fair, then, for Americans when they think about tax policy in the Bush administration to think in terms of more than $1.6 trillion, because eventually, you guys are going to tackle this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly for this year the correct figure is $1.6 trillion. That's what the President believes in, that's what the President will fight for. But he is elected to a four-year term, and the President is going to be interested in additional tax relief, but that's down the road.
Q Ari, to follow up on where you said $1.6 trillion for this year -- if they get this tax package done by the August recess, say that you would not support further tax cuts in the fall?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's for this calendar year. The President's tax plan is for this calendar year -- $1.6 trillion over 10 years to reduce marginal income tax rates, double the child credit from $500 to $1,000, repeal the estate tax, reduce the marriage penalty, provide $60 billion worth of alternative minimum tax relief. Those are the core components of the President's plan, and that is all in this year's tax package.
Q In this year's tax package, but when you -- you mentioned yourself subsequent tax packages that might address the AMT. Could that happen this year potentially?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think we'll stick with one major tax bill at a time here.
Q On defense spending, I know we visited this issue several times in the past five weeks. But yesterday at his briefing, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tossed the hot potato back to the President, saying it's the President's budget. And yet, as you know, there are senior military people and experts outside the Pentagon who say that the military can't wait, that it needs an infusion of money right now to keep from cannibalizing equipment, and we're talking about billions. Is the President in a way waffling on his campaign promise, or stalling, and is there any chance that he will add money to his budget now or at least a supplemental before the full review is completed?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President has been crystal clear on this point; so, too, has the Secretary of Defense and they stand together. And that is -- and the President said this in his speech on Tuesday night, that we will not let defense budgets drive defense strategy. We will have a defense strategy that drives a defense budget. And that's why he's directed the Secretary of Defense to undertake the force structure review, which the Defense Department is in the middle of now. And they will continue to review our nation's military priorities and needs, and once the review is complete, we'll have more to say.
Q A quick follow up, if I may. The Secretary also said that he's having difficulty getting his people in place, a lot of the people that would be doing this review. Is there any speed- up attempt going to be made to get people cleared through the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Pleased to note this week that the staff -- the Senate confirmed staff at the Pentagon doubled, this week alone. They now have two. And we have named several names. As you just heard, I named two more people this morning, to a host of positions. And as you've been able to notice, just from the pattern, we have increasingly accelerated the number of nominations we've been announcing. And we will look forward to working with the Senate to assure prompt consideration and confirmation of all the names.
Q What about a press spokesman at the Pentagon? Anybody in line yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: When we have something to announce, we will announce it.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, this afternoon.
Q Can you give us the agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- President Bush and President Flores of El Salvador will talk about, of course, the devastating earthquake that took place in El Salvador in January and February, and you will hear -- President Bush will express his desire to help the people of El Salvador to recover from the earthquake; will, of course, want to listen to any issues on the mind of President Flores.
Q Is that going to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can anticipate a written statement from President Bush following the meeting.
Q Is this going to be a covered meeting, pool or anything?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: I think we'll release an official photo.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, as I just indicated, we'll have a printed statement following the meeting.
Q Will he come out to the stakeout?
MR. FLEISCHER: President Flores, I believe, will be coming out to the stakeout following the meeting.
Q Do we expect any announcement of increased U.S. aid to El Salvador coming out of this meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we need to allow the two Presidents to meet.
Q Ari, what's wrong with the Democrats' idea of splitting the surplus into three equal slices? One would go for the tax cut; other, paying off the debt, fixing Social Security, Medicare; the third would go for other particular priorities, such as education or defense? Why isn't this a reasonable idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a good question. The approach that President Bush took in designing his tax plan and his education plan and his pay down the debt plan and his education plan, is to identify the nation's needs and to fully fund them. And that is why he proposed an 11-percent increase, the largest increase of any item in the budget, for education, for example.
That's why he proposed the tax cut that he did at the size that he did. He wants to lower marginal income tax rates for all Americans, double the child credit.
I think the difference between his approach and the Democrat one-third, one-third, one-third approach is, the President's approach is based on addressing and meeting priorities. The Democrat approach is a little more arbitrary. It's almost -- the President said that he didn't want to throw a dart at the board and come up with arbitrary numbers. And I submit, one-third, one-third, one-third is not an approach that measures the needs and the priorities; it's a more arbitrary formula.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it certainly is on the table, to the degree that it was offered in the Ways and Means Committee yesterday as a substitute approach. And I note the three Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee voted against it. And so it's always on the table in the Congress, anybody has the right to make amendments and put their plans forward.
Yesterday, of course, the Ways and Means Committee passed the President's plan, which would reduce income tax rates, including the lower rate from 15 to 10 percent -- or 15 to 10 percent over -- on a retroactive basis. And the Democrat substitute was defeated in the Ways and Means Committee in a bipartisan vote.
Q Could I just make sure I'm clear about some numbers you gave out this morning? You said that the wealthiest 1 percent of income taxpayers would benefit from 22 percent -- would get 22 percent of the benefit of the Bush tax cut, and that excludes the estate tax cut. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Also excludes the research and development tax cut, for example. It's, again, another example of a tax cut that economists don't know how to distribute it to individuals.
Q Can I follow up on that? Is the administration at all concerned, you know the Democrats have been putting forth the argument that the President's plan is too generous to the rich. Do you think that -- and that 43 percent number has been out there. Are you concerned at all that, or is your administration planning to do more to refute those claims and those numbers?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that with every passing year -- and we saw this in the course of the campaign -- those task cuts for the rich arguments become increasingly stale and not well received by the American people. I think the American people understand that if you pay income taxes in this country, you should get income tax relief. The American people understand that people who pay the most in income taxes should not be denied tax relief because they were successful and worked hard.
And I think, frankly, that that's a view -- Senator Miller, for example, was -- noted yesterday that he warned his own party, the Democrat Party, to stay away from that type of argument because he thought it would not work and it would hurt the Democrats.
So I think there is some division in Democrat ranks about whether that type of approach, that type of approach that involves class warfare and pitting one group of Americans against another, is fruitful or is successful or is even wise.
President Bush's approach is that everybody who pays income taxes deserves income tax relief, deserves tax relief. He doesn't think that anybody in this country should pay more than one-third of their income in taxes. And that's what is reflected in the plan that he's fighting for.
Q But what's false about the statement that including the research and development tax credit, including the estate tax relief, that 43 percent of $1.6 trillion tax cut will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the taxpayers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's actually 31.5 percent. Let me give you the numbers again. Under the current income tax code, the top 1 percent pay 31.5 percent of all income taxes, while they will receive 22 percent of the Bush tax cut. In other words, the top 1 percent pay one-third of the income taxes and they receive about one-fifth of the tax cut.
And let's do it another way. People who make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year pay 7 percent of the income taxes and they will receive 12 percent of the Bush tax cut. We think that's eminently fair. We think it's across the board. And, again, it's a fundamental matter of principle. The President does not think a tax relief should be denied to people simply because they work hard and are successful.
Q Is this a joint tax committee?
MR. FLEISCHER: A joint tax committee, no.
Q But that's income taxes. When you add in the estate tax relief and the other tax breaks, what is false about this statement that 43 percent of $1.6 trillion tax cut will go to the top 1 percent of the taxpayers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, there is no accuracy to the statement that the estate tax benefits only the top 1 percent. People have no idea who people leave their money to. To simply guess, out of thin air, that every penny of the estate tax is left to people in the top 1 percent is as wrong as wrong can be. People have the right in this country to leave their money to anybody they want, and that includes people in the 99 percent lower, the top 1 percent.
It's their money; they should be able to leave it to their children, their grandchildren and their nephews, their nieces, their favorite charities, their churches, as they see fit. And I would hardly think that many of the churches, the synagogues, the nephews and the nieces are all in the top 1 percent. That's erroneous.
Q Do you have a projection as to how that would be distributed?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the estate tax?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I've seen.
Q Can you tell us -- the President, obviously, is traveling around trying to -- I think as he put it -- gin up support for the tax cut. Can you give us a sense of how much he's going to be traveling in the coming days, where he's going and what the general purpose of that is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. If I tell you now, does that make this the last question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you travel, and let me give you a little overview for next week, in all cases. Monday, the University of Oklahoma football and softball teams will visit the President here at the White House. The President on Tuesday will visit the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, back in the White House on Tuesday, so it's a day trip.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Fargo, North Dakota. He will overnight there. And the President will travel to South Dakota and to Louisiana on Friday. And then he will overnight on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. And then we will travel to Florida on Monday of the following week.
MR. FLEISCHER: Where in Florida? Panhandle region. I don't know exactly what town yet. Also just backing up, on Wednesday the President will host the President of South Korea for a working visit and lunch. We'll have details on coverage closer to the visit.
Q Why North and South Dakota?
THE PRESIDENT: It's part of the President's campaign to bring his budget plan to the people, and to discuss it with people in a variety of states. And every day, in every way, whether it's at the White House or it's in travel, the President looks at how to get his plan across to the voters, so the voters can get their message to the Senators and the Congressmen, so they'll vote for it.
Q Those are states with small populations. Does Senator Daschle's home state have anything to do with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: In a 50-50 Senate, there's no such thing as a small populated state.
Q What is Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q Tuesday's event, Chicago Mercantile Exchange? Is he going to speak there? More budget?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he'll speak there. I'll have a little bit more closer to the event on speech remarks.
Q Budget-related, though, we can expect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me withhold until next week.
MR. FLEISCHER: Les?
Q The Washington Post quotes Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, a Democrat, as saying, and this is a quote, "I think if I see one more picture of Bush reaching down and patting little black kids on the head, I'm going to go absolutely crazy, because the policies he's proposing are an anathema to African-Americans." Do you and the President think this is an absolutely non-crazy statement, or not? And I have a follow up.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to continue to do what he's been doing. And he made it crystal clear in his inaugural address, and in every day that he governs, which is to bring this nation together, to continue his efforts to reach out. And it's based on the policies that he ran on, improving education. And that remains his top priority. And he will continue to do it.
Q What did he think of Glendening's statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't discussed it with him. And I think the President is just focused on his agenda, and that's what he'll do.
Q Does the President have full confidence in Mary Frances Berry as chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, given Harvard Law School attorney Jennifer Becerra's (phonetic) report in The Weekly Standard of what Ms. Berry did to the Secretary of State of Florida?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information for you on that, Les.
Q Ari, why is he going to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange? What will he do there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron just asked a similar question; I'll try to let you know a little bit more about his remarks closer to it. Q The Dakotas is not only Daschle, but Kent Conrad. Is this trip kind of an in-your-face move to those guys?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Certainly, we are going to look to build support for our agenda everywhere we possibly can. And, certainly, I have not heard anybody say that it's not a part of what the President should do, to travel to someone's home state. Typically, people are very well received.
For example, in Nebraska, when we traveled to Nebraska, I think people saw how well received we were, and we traveled there with a Democrat senator, with a Republican senator. The President is going to continue to do just that.
Q But that was a get-able Democratic Senator. I'm not sure Daschle and Conrad really are.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to start defining who is get-able and who is not get-able. But the President is going to try to build support for his plan everywhere he can.
Q Can you give us a little color on Camp David? He's going there again this weekend. Do you expect he will keep his pace of going up every other weekend? Who have been his guests up there besides Blair, obviously, and what does he like doing up there?
MR. FLEISCHER: He goes up there to relax. Mrs. Bush will be with him. I think he has some family friends going up with him as well, I think some relatives, as I recall. It just is a good chance to get away from the weekend. And he'll go to Crawford as often as he can, too. I think you will see on a regular basis a combination of going to Camp David and going to Crawford on weekends. He runs up while he's up there, Ron. He gets to run outdoors, of course. Here at the White House he runs on a treadmill. When he travels on the road, he'll often run on the treadmill at his hotel room. So it's an opportunity for him to run outdoors, which he appreciates. He goes to some movies while he's up there.
Q There's a theater up there?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a movie theater up there. He went to church services last Sunday up there.
Q Off campus, or is there a church on the campus?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it's on the grounds.
Q And can we expect he'll be going to Waco every other weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't want to predict it. As the President sees fit, with his weekend schedule, I think it will be somewhat on a regular basis. I don't want to say what the precise time is, I don't know. Every week it's different.
Q Ari the hearings last night, the Burton committee on governmental reform went until 10:30 p.m. Did the President get to watch any of it? Is he being kept abreast of these hearings?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't talk to him about it today. I don't know if he -- I know his approach to all those issues, as you've heard me say many times before, is the President is looking forward, not backward.
Q Yes, but is he getting a report of what these hearings are producing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anything that emerges from that is going to change what he does, as far as trying to improve education or cut taxes, or pay down the debt. And that's where his focus is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course Prime Minister-elect Sharon must still first form his government. And until that happens, it would be premature to discuss any type of formal meeting, until that happens. And as far as the talks, as you know, Secretary Powell visited the region, and we're going to continue to be as helpful as we can to the parties. And any agreement that the parties reach will be an agreement that we can support.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you to allow the President to have his meeting with President Flores. And then as I indicated, following the meeting, we will have a statement, a print statement, from President Bush and depending on the meeting, you'll find your answer in that document.
Q Can you just comment on Greenspan's comments today, and whether this helps you build momentum with the sales job that you guys have been doing for the last week, and whether it would help you more if he would be more specific about the size of the tax cut, which he wasn't at all today?
MR. FLEISCHER: If we would be more specific?
Q No, if he, if he would like -- I mean, what he was reluctant to endorse --
MR. FLEISCHER: We do not tell Chairman Greenspan what to say, or recommend to him what to say. The Chairman said today, just as he had said previously in his testimony on the Hill, that he prefers tax cuts to spending increases. And we note that. But the President is going to fight for his plan, in all cases.
Q But does it help in terms of building momentum in trying to get the message out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we always note what Chairman Greenspan says, but he is an independent -- he is Chairman of an independent agency, the Federal Reserve, and I'm going to treat it as such.
Q So no one is happy to hear him say, yet again --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me broaden the question. I think one of the things we're seeing that President Bush has particularly noted is the changing tone in political circles and economic circles in the country about tax cuts. It wasn't so long ago where people said, you can't get a tax cut. It wasn't so long ago that the predominant Democrat alternative was a $250 billion tax cut. Then it became a $500 billion tax cut. Now it's a $900 billion tax cut. All this while, the President has fought for a $1.6 trillion tax cut. So I think you could call that movement in the right direction.
Q What was the President's take on the version of the so I think you could call that moving in the right direction. Jim.
Q What is the President's take on the version of the across the board rate cut that passed the Ways and Means Committee. Was he happy with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was. He was. I told the President about the Ways and Means vote on the plane coming back yesterday, and the President was very pleased to hear it and he looks forward to continued congressional action on it.
Q Was he disappointed that he didn't pick up any Democrats on that committee?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President also noted in 1997, when the Congress passed a $275 billion tax cut -- that was signed into law by President Clinton -- no Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee voted for it at that time, either.
Now, of course, subsequent to Committee action, there was additional action in our final passage, there were a number of Democrats who did, indeed, vote for it, including some from the Ways and Means Committee.
So we understand it's the beginning of a process and it sure is a good beginning.
Q So next week, when this comes to the House Floor, is it expected to do -- you expect to see a sizeable number of Democrats cross over and vote with him.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, based on the 1997 example, that would not be likely. In 1997, it was after the conference agreement and after President Clinton indicated he would sign it that many of the Democrats who were against tax cuts changed positions and voted for it.
Q All right, so I'll ask it the other way around. So he's resigned to the fact that Democrats are going to vote against him en masse next week? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: See, a consistent question. We'll see what the vote is next week. And the President is hopeful that many Democrats will agree with him that taxes are too high and the American people deserve tax relief.
But it is certainly the prerogative of the Democrats to vote against tax relief, if that's how they feel.
Q Ari, Japanese newspapers reported earlier today that the President has decided to nominate former Senator Howard Baker as the new Ambassador to Japan. Can you confirm that? Is the announcement imminent?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not confirm or deny or speculate about personnel announcements.
Q Is the President still willing to meet with Prime Minister Mori of Japan?
MR. FLEISCHER: As soon as we have a date announced, we'll let you know.
Q Ari, as the President continues the budget tour, any chance we'll see town hall meetings or things like that, where maybe he's a little more likely to encounter questions from real people, who aren't quite as enthusiastic as the one we saw last week? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I hate to describe the people who were with him in the last several days as non-real. I think they may take umbrage.
No, you know, the people who were with him -- you heard one woman in Atlanta say yesterday she didn't vote for him, she didn't support him, but she liked what he had to say Tuesday night and was taking a second look.
We invite people to go to those events who are in those communities, particularly the Atlanta event, people who are involved in health care for our children. They worked at that hospital, they had a role to play in delivering health care to the children.
We may have different formats, different events, we may change things up. And as we do, they will unfold before your eyes.
Q Are you suggesting you're going to have tax families who oppose the tax cut now? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there was certainly -- the President was joined by somebody yesterday at the spot that she didn't vote for him. And we don't ask the tax families who they voted for.
Q That's not my question. It was whether you have any tax families who oppose the tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: We were talking about supporting the President.
Q Back to Don's question, though. Is he going to go to forums where he's more likely to get contentious questions?
MR. FLEISCHER: He enjoys coming to news conferences.
Q Speaking of contentious, the Oklahoma Sooners are coming here Monday, but your staff includes an awful lot of Texas Longhorns. I mean, is there going to be a problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the Longhorns. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, may I ask a foreign policy question? A week ago, meeting with the British Prime Minister, the President endorsed the idea of the European rapid reaction force. Is there any connection between his endorsement and his long known, long announced intention to withdraw American peacekeeping forces from the Balkans?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Is that a prelude to the withdrawal?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The withdrawal of the 750 Americans from the Balkans was a long-planned withdrawal, and there was no connection.
Q Ari, can you affirm that the President is committed to stabilizing the Balkans first and cutting back on the U.S. involvement only after that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has been crystal clear that he will consult with our allies about our involvement in the Balkans, and that
the President, as a general approach, does believe that the United States is overextended. And he will work with our allies on any type of decisions that are made.
Q Ari, Richard Cohen, in The Washington Post, has written -- and, I think, most movingly -- of his very deep concern over the board chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Museum using the museum's letterhead to ask President Clinton to "perform one of the most God-like actions that anyone can ever do in pardoning Marc Rich." And Cohen also was concerned that Maya Angelou, who performed for the anti-Semitic Farrakhan's march, was appointed to the museum's board.
Does the President agree or disagree with Mr. Cohen? And if he has no statement, how do you feel about it, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed it with the President.
Q How do you feel?
MR. FLEISCHER: I hold no personal views. I am the spokesman for the President.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The remarks Sunday by the President will be a tribute to Ronald Reagan. It will be a reflection about how former President Reagan changed the country for the better, how good and proud he made us feel about our nation and how strong he made our national defense; something that we are still benefitting from today. And it will be a tribute to President Reagan.
MR. FLEISCHER: For Thursday?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: It is -- is it this Thursday? Yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. I gave a quick overview. If that was previously announced for this Thursday, yes, it is still on.
Q I didn't hear the question. What was the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting of NATO, of Lord Robertson is on Thursday next week, as well.
END 1:10 P.M. EST