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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 2, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Mary Gall Nomination........................................3-4
Incident at Southwest Gate....................................5
Patients' Bill of Rights..............................5-7;12-15
Middle East Developments....................................7-9
Civil Rights Laws............................................10
Base Closing Commissions.....................................18
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release August 2, 2001
the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a very lengthy list of nominations the President is making today, and so I would like to go through that with a little bit of background word on it as well. And then I want to give a preview of something the President will do shortly at his education event later -- early this afternoon.
The President intends to nominate Pamela Hyde Smith to be Ambassador to the Republican of Moldova. The President intends to nominate the following 12 individuals to serve as United States attorneys: Susan Brooks with the Southern District of Indiana; Leura Canary, for the Middle District of Alabama; Colm Connolly for the District of Delaware; Tom Gean for the Western District of Arkansas; Raymond Gruender for the Eastern District of Missouri; Roscoe Howard Jr. for the District of Columbia; David Iglesias for the District of New Mexico; Charles Larson Sr. for the Northern District of Iowa; Matthew Mead for the District of Wyoming; Michael Sullivan for the District of Massachusetts; Drew Wrigley for the District of North Dakota; and Joseph Van Bokkelen for the Northern District of Indiana.
In addition, the President intends to nominate the following 16 individuals to serve as members of the Federal Judiciary: Jeffrey Howard to be United States Circuit Judge of the First Circuit; Terrence L. O'Brien of Wyoming, United States Circuit Judge for the 10th District; Karon O. Bowdre for the Northern District of Alabama; Callie Virginia Smith Granade of Alabama for the Southern District of Alabama; David Bunning to be United States Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky; Karen Caldwell for the Eastern District of Kentucky; Danny Reeves of Kentucky for the Eastern District of Kentucky; Kurt Engelhart for the Eastern District of Louisiana; Larry Hicks for the District of Nevada; Cristina Armijo of New Mexico for the District of New Mexico; William Johnson for the District of New Mexico, Claire Eagan for the Northern District of Oklahoma; Stephen Friot for the Western District of Oklahoma, Joe Heaton of Oklahoma for the Western District of Oklahoma; James Payne for the Northern Eastern Western District of Oklahoma, and Lawrence Block, Judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Q Who is the Northeastern District of Alabama again?
MR. FLEISCHER: The judge.
Q Is Dave Bunning the Senator's -- related to the Senator?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to get -- additional biographical information will be coming out; right now I don't have that right here. Having walked through these nominations, let me sum up where the President stands on judicial nominations at this point into the year.
The President has now made 44 federal, circuit and district court nominations prior to the Senate's August recess. That breaks the previous records, it surpasses the nominations made by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Reagan at this point into their tenure. By the August recess of their first year in Office, President Reagan had made 13 nominations to the Circuit and Judicial Court, former President Bush had made eight, President Clinton had made 13.
President Bush submitted his first 11 nominations on May 9th, two months prior to either President Reagan, Bush or Clinton having made their first. In the past three administrations, there has been a very longstanding bipartisan tradition of nominees for names prior to the August recess being confirmed in the first year of their presidencies, with only one exception to that, in the case of one nominee.
Consistent with that bipartisan history, the President hopes and urges that the Senate will move forward and act on all 44 of his nominations this year.
One word about an upcoming presidential event. The President will meet early this afternoon with House and Senate members of the Conference Committee on Education, a bipartisan group. This meeting comes on the same day that the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, released its new scores. The math scores released today show that only a quarter of fourth and eighth graders are proficient in math. The results also indicate that the President's education reform that is pending in the Congress is the right approach to improve our nation's schools.
In fact, the results released this morning by NAEP show that students in Texas and North Carolina, where education reform was a bipartisan centerpiece of governors' agendas, those are the states in which education reform -- results in those states show that students in North Carolina and Texas lead the nation in mathematics achievement and improvement, as well as reducing the gap in learning between African American students and white students. So the President is very heartened by these results. He will be talking about them himself at the event later this afternoon.
Q The NAEP scores, are they just for math today, or are there others?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's an extensive listing of scores. We can get you the background on it at the President's event. It is a very detailed and scholarly walk-through of test results across the nation.
Q On the Gall nomination, does the White House have the authority to strip the current chairman of her chairmanship?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to get into any speculation about any additional action on this topic. Suffice it to say the President was disappointed in the vote today by the democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee. Mary Gall did not lose today; bipartisanship lost today because the very same Democratic senators who voted for Mary Gall when President Clinton nominated her voted against her today, simply because George Bush nominated her. And the President thinks that's unwise and unfortunate.
Q I wasn't asking for a reaction. I was asking, does the -- technically, does the White House have the ability to strip a chairman out of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate about other issues involving this vote.
Q This isn't speculation. Either you do or you don't have the ability to take the job away from the current chair.
MR. FLEISCHER: The focus of the White House at this moment is on the vote and what that vote signals for bipartisanship. Any other events will come, if they come, at a later time.
Q Are you consulting -- considering your options? What about Mary Gall and the future of Mary Gall as a potential one day chair of this commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is working with the Senators who support her on what steps are best to take next. Those conversations are ongoing. And if we have more to report, I'll indicate that at the appropriate time.
Q Is there anyone at the White House who can say what the scope of executive authority is, whether or not the executive has the authority to strip the Chairman of the powers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's just not a question I'm speculating about at this time.
Q It's a legal question. Is there anybody who can answer that in the White House what the scope --
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is focused right now on the vote, and the meeting -- the White House is focused right now on the vote and on the meeting of the vote. Any other events will come in due course.
Q Can you take the question though, Ari, and get back to us, because it seems like a legitimate question.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'll be happy to do that.
Q Does that mean you hope to have a vote in the full Senate -- that somehow you hope to muster enough support or find some way to get a vote on the full Senate Floor, despite the way the Committee voted today?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's one of the topics that the White House is talking to Senators about, whether there are any prospects to move for it and go to the Floor, especially given the fact that you had so many Democrat Senators vote for her previously. Perhaps this is a phenomenon limited to just the Commerce Committee. The White House will continue to review with our allies in the Senate where to proceed, how to proceed next. No determination has been made.
Q How do you assess those prospects?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's hard to say. I think it depends on whether the Senate wants to be known as an institution where the Democratic senators in this case flip-flopped, voted against somebody they previously voted for in an action that suggests to the American people the Senate is more interested in partisanship than bipartisanship.
Q Ari, are you aware of what is happening in the back, at the Southwest Gate right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q What's going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: At the Southwest Gate, a dog made a contact with a vehicle, in terms of the sniffing the dogs do when the vehicles enter the grounds. Apparently, it was a false alarm and it has all been cleared up.
Q But is there a concern that these dogs are sniffing falsely? (Laughter.) I mean, seriously -- no, seriously. The Secret Service relies on these dogs and they are sniffing things that just don't turn out to be something. Is there a concern at the White House about retraining or finding another way to find out organic substances?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it is all part of the security procedures at the White House where I think people are very understanding of the need to have tight security at the White House. And the procedures put in place by the Secret Service are among the very best in the world, even though false alarms do take place.
Q Since that was right outside of the Oval Office area, was the President moved at any time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't gotten any information about that.
Q Ari, on patients' bill of rights, there was a blistering attack on the agreement between the President and Norwood this morning from Representative Ganske and Dingell, Andrews, and others, saying that, one, no one knows what is in this bill; two, that it is probably unconstitutional, given some previous decisions about federal law taking precedent over state law; and that there are innumerable questions about how this would work legally.
Does the White House have anything to say to try to clear up what appears to be confusion, even on the part of Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a couple points. One is, the White House is very satisfied with the agreement in several aspects. One, that it will pave the way to getting a patients' bill of rights enacted into law for the first time in seven years that Congressman Norwood has been working on the issue. Two, the White House is satisfied that it is fully legal and in accordance with the constitution. And, three, in an effort to be helpful to reporters, to answer more of your technical and substantive questions, we are going to make one of the lawyers who worked on it available later this afternoon for a background briefing so she can get into depth on any of the substantive matters you raise.
Q Do you know when and where that will be held?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're looking right now at around the 2:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. time frame, most likely in my office.
Q But your level of confidence about the vote today, while it seemed very, very high yesterday and even this morning, there were other people watching the vote within the administration who think it's going to be very tight and that it's not at all clear at this point whether even all of the Republicans are on board.
Do you have information to clear that up?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House continues to be optimistic that the vote will pass.
Q The Ganske --
Q So -- well, but there are people who are really sweating this thing out. Do you have information that tells you that all the Republicans are on board for sure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously not all the Republicans are on board. I think there was one gentleman that was mentioned here that may not be. But the White House is confident that will pass, and as always, the White House keeps an eye on important votes.
Q Ganske says that they sent a letter up here a week ago when the White House first floated the idea of federal law ruling all of these cases. And they sent back a page and a half of questions about how it would work legally. Is that, in fact, the case, and did the White House respond in any way to try to get people on board?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've just indicated, the White House is fully satisfied that all matters in this legislation are in accordance with all laws, and I think that will be made clear to you at the background briefing later today.
Q Well, I know you're satisfied; my question was whether or not -- they clearly are not satisfied, and I was wondering if the White House had taken any effort to -- they say they sent up a list of questions saying, look, here are all of the questions we have about how this would work legally and logistically. Did the White House send back any kind of response? Was there some effort to answer some of those questions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to get you an answer specifically on that one letter at the background briefing.
Q Ari, there are reports from the Middle East saying that many of the countries that are really -- are girding for war, that there is a fear that the Israelis, given the situation, will either go in to occupy the West Bank or possibly try and throw the Palestinians into Jordan, potentially destabilizing the Jordan government.
Given the role of the United States there, isn't it time -- and the ability only of the U.S., either alone or in combination, to do something to change the dynamic of the present situation in the Middle East, aren't the alarm bells going off at the White House, and isn't there a possibility of, for instance, international monitors being sent to the region to try and stave off a greater war situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but the position of the administration is as it's been from the very beginning. The administration, of course, is very concerned about the events in the Middle East and the surge in the violence there. That is why it's so important for the parties to implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations so that the cease-fire can take hold and they can move to the next steps of securing political peace in the region.
On the question of monitors, the President has said and the Secretary of State have said that monitors are a part of the second stage of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. The first stage still has to be implemented, which is securing of a cease-fire. But if the parties were to agree to monitors, that is something the United States would support.
Q But, Ari, that -- I mean, with respect, that's an answer you've been giving consistently. But when the violence reaches a stage where it's at now, where it's so bad, does the administration not consider any kind of sort of stop the bleeding mechanisms to get Mitchell back on track again?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is one mechanism to stop the violence, and that is for the parties to stop the violence. The United States cannot force the parties to stop. The United States can help facilitate a process so that the parties come to their own agreements to stop, and that's the efforts of this administration.
Q But the pressure doesn't seem to be working very well. I mean, the admonitions aren't working very well. And that reality -- I mean, your reality is you're painting it of being the case, nevertheless, can the administration at least consider doing something a little bit more proactive?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the administration is proactive. The administration has been working directly with the parties. And fundamentally, this remains an issue for the parties themselves to come into agreement with the help of the United States. And that's the position the President will take to help those nations and help those regions, that help the parties come into peace.
Q And in the teeth of your admonitions, the Sharon government has stepped up its violence, its proactive attacks on Palestinian leaders. Is that out of line?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, it's reflective of the overall level of violence in the Middle East. And that is exactly why President Clinton created the impetus for the Mitchell Committee recommendations. And the Senator Mitchell, having gone to the region and met repeatedly with the parties involved, came out with this series of recommendations which have widely been heralded and accepted. And the only way to stop the violence is for the parties to stop shooting at each other, and that includes Israel.
Q Isn't the Sharon government defying the President and defying the administration's calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, it's not an international question of who in the Middle East is defying who internationally. It's a question of what is happening on the ground in the Middle East to secure a cease-fire. And that's where the President's focus is.
Q Has the President had any contact with Prime Minister Sharon over the past several days?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not talked to him in the last several days.
Q If the cease-fire is what the President wants, there doesn't seem to be much progress in that direction. What's he doing to get it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He cannot force the parties. He can be a facilitator, which is the role the United States is playing here.
Q With no apparent effect?
Q Another follow-up. This might sound selfish, in view of what the people on the ground are going through, but if there is an all-out war, is there a mechanism in place to prevent an Arab oil boycott, as we experienced --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypothetical of that nature.
Q This -- I just wondered if there is a mechanism --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the definition of a hypotheticals.
Q Ari, does the President support Senator Santorum's announcement that he would drop provisions on the faith-based bill that were -- that sparked controversy on the House side?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is heartened to see the beginnings of action in the Senate on the faith-based initiative. When he met with Senator Santorum and he met with Senator Lieberman in the Oval Office, he commended them for their willingness to proceed and he will continue to work with the Senate on their legislation.
He is not going to comment on every detail of the drafting stages. But the President is pleased they are moving forward.
Q One report was saying the President was willing to increase funding for the legislation. Can you comment on that at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he is going to work with the Congress on the faith-based initiative. The level of funding in the House-passed bill in terms of the amount of deductions for -- tax deductions for charitable giving was not the level the President sought. If the Senate were to increase that level, I think you would see receptivity from the White House.
But most of that bill is not a money bill. Most of that bill is empowering faith-based communities to solve problems within their districts, within their communities, within their regions, because they would no longer be discriminated against when the government provides grants. That is the essence and the core of that bill. The President calls it "unleashing the armies of compassion."
The charitable giving provision, which is directly tied to money, is an important aspect of it, but there are many other important aspects as well.
Q Senator Santorum had the President's support in what he outlined the other day.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President is going to work with the Senate and the President is going to let the Senate work its will, and the President is encouraged to let them move forward.
Q Does he disagree or agree with what Senator Santorum said?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to be pleased to watch the Senate move forward so we can get an agreement in the conference. On the question specifically that you are asking about this deals with the civil rights laws, the President said in response to a reporter's question when he was asked about this, he wants to make certain that nothing undermines the current civil rights laws.
Q Did Senator Santorum talk with the President or any White House staff before he said what he said the other day?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, he talked to the President directly about this in the Oval Office. So, too, did Senator Lieberman. And Senator Lieberman and Senator Santorum said upon leaving that they were encouraged by the conversation with the President, they think they will be able to work with the President, the President believes he will be able to work with them, but I am not going to comment on every detail of every stage along the way.
The President is going to continue to work with the Senate and is encouraged by the efforts that they are making broadly.
Q Ari, the President said he wants to support all the U.S. civil rights laws. You said more broadly in terms of all civil rights laws; is there a distinction there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm talking about federal laws.
Q Not state and local laws, which are the ones at issue in this provision?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's statement -- and I heard Senator Lieberman say it as well -- that we have to honor the civil rights laws, the federal civil rights laws.
Q Lieberman said we should honor all civil rights laws, including state and local.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, then that question, I think that is something that is going to go to conference and the President is going to work productively with the members of the conference. He wants to get agreement on a faith-based bill that is in accordance with the federal civil rights laws.
Q Ari, the central question which underlies all of this is, which is, will the President support any legislation that would require faith-based institutions to adhere to state and local anti-discrimination laws which they disagree with? Because, according to them, they are not going to become armies of compassion if they have to adhere to state and local ordinances on anti-discrimination that they disagree with. Can you resolve that central question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to work with Congress as this evolves. And I think you can take whatever inference you want from that, but the President has made it clear that he's going to work with Congress as this matter evolves. He's very encouraged that movement is taking place on this very important initiative.
Q But can't you give us some sense of the position? So if that means that if they come to him and say, yes, we want to adhere to all civil rights laws, even local, that he'll go along with that, or would he --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's important to let the Senate take up the bill and let it come to the Floor of the Senate, and let's see what the exact language is and how the Senate's proposing. It's still a little early in the Senate.
Q But he can't stake out a position on that point now?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the President's position now.
Q If the nondiscrimination act becomes law, would he then also want this to adhere to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get out ahead of the Senate. I think it's important to let the Senate work its will, and the President will take a look at the legislation when the specifics are available in the Senate and he'll share whatever can be shared at that time.
Q Ari, can I ask you two more questions on patients' bill of rights? First, a number of the members up there, Republican and Democrat, believe that the deal struck between Norwood and the President would abrogate state laws on patients' bill of rights. Is that the White House understanding?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, and I think you can get into a good discussion of that at the background briefing. But there are a number of preemption issues here, and as you know, the President was very concerned about states such as Texas that passed a strong patients' bill of rights, and he wanted to make certain that any federal action did not harm patients and consumers in a state like Texas. And the legislation agreed to yesterday by Congressman Norwood and the President continues to honor the principle the President established about respecting states' rights on patients' bill of rights.
Q So he doesn't believe that it would not abrogate state laws?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a certain series of preemptions in there, and I'll -- the President is satisfied that his principles have been fulfilled when it comes to states that have patients' bill of rights. And you can get into detail about that in the briefing.
Q The second question is, a lot of these people were saying, look, they're trying to gauge the ramifications of this, and having federal law govern all of these things, and some of the preemption questions you're talking about, as well as other things, requires time for people to look at this and consider it and digest it. Some people are even suggesting they should wait until September. Is any delay of any kind, even a couple of days warranted in the view of the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just interesting how the very same people who were criticizing the Speaker of the House last week when he indicated for one brief day that he might put this off until the fall are now urging the Speaker to put it off until the fall, while they criticized him last week for that.
You know, this is what typically happens in a legislative cycle when people aren't willing to compromise. They start looking to any reason they can to complain about any compromise, to complain about an agreement, because they no longer support it. I've heard that on many pieces of legislation where people voted against it. You never hear that from the people who support it.
Q This is straightforward and simple enough that people ought to be able to understand it in a morning; I mean, it's not so complicated that they need more time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the terms of this agreement are very clear to the members, that are available for them to review. And this is the typical way in which the House and Senate do their business, and the President is very pleased that the House of Representatives is on the threshold of passing a strong, powerful patients' bill of rights that protects consumers and does so in a way that doesn't drive up health care.
Q Ari, you've depicted this as a first step in terms of getting this agreement out of the House and into conference. Is the administration open to revisiting these issues once it's in conference if this turns out to be a question --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll be prepared to talk about conference after this passes the House. And so let's first let it pass the House, and let the process take its due course.
Q Ari, I'm sorry if this has been asked and maybe answered. On the patients' bill of rights, is the President only working with Republicans on this? It seems that is the case.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has worked with a number of Democrats on this. He held a meeting here at the White House, if you recall, where about a dozen Democrats came down. But the President is interested --
Q How far back?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was probably about three or four weeks. The President is interested in assembling a majority behind a bill that will get signed into law. And that is how our constitutional system works. The President hopes that many Democrats will be a part of that bipartisan majority.
But at the end of today, there will be a majority in support of a patients' bill of rights that is one that is agreed to the President and Congressman Norwood. The President hopes that will be a bipartisan majority. But at the end of the day, there will be a bipartisan majority, and there will be a more partisan minority. The President is pleased that something can be passed by a bipartisan majority and signed into law.
Q Ari, just following up on that point, though, Ari --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there no seat for the Los Angeles Times in its duly honored, close to the front row position?
Q Ari, just following up on that point though, which you addressed a little bit in gaggle this morning --
Q I'm in --
Q -- which Keith sort of brought up, which is that you are interested in obviously getting a majority, interested in bipartisanship, changing the tone in Washington, why not kind of try and get Norwood to go to Ganske and Dingell and get sort of agreement, and then really strike sort of a bipartisan compromise? Why -- was there a sense of the clock ticking -- or why not go the extra mile to get that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when the vote takes place today, you will see whether or not the Democrats choose to be partisan or bipartisan. I think there's a real question about whether the House Democrat leadership wants their members to support this. There are a lot of indications that, particularly on the Democrat side, they're more interested in pursuing a veto and keeping a political issue alive than they are in protecting patients.
Q But, Ari, that may be true. But what's also true is that you peeled the Republican away from the rest of the pack, which included
Democrats, to get your deal. You didn't bring the Democrats in on it, you peeled off a Republican, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very proud that he and Congressman Norwood, who has longstanding been a champion of patient rights, have ended in an agreement that Congressman Norwood, in his judgment, believed protects the patients.
But our system begins with majorities being assembled in the House and the Senate, and that's what has now happened. And I want to remind you that, in the past, patient bill of rights died in the Senate. They weren't even able to win sufficient support to pass that institution under its rules.
Now you have a case where both the House and the Senate will take an action on a patient bill of rights. And what's important now is that people recognize that the President meant it when he said he will veto anything that will drive up the cost of health care and make people lose their insurance.
And as a result, our nation now stands much closer to actually getting something done and signed into law because of the compromise reached by Congressman Norwood. Democrats may not want to go along with a compromise because they prefer a veto. That's the prerogative, but that would be unfortunate.
Q What would be the harm of waiting a little bit to let people digest this. I mean, they are just getting the language today. What would be the harm in waiting? After all, when you got the election reform report, you made the very point, I think, that you didn't endorse any of these principles because, you know, important decisions need time, you need time to be deliberative. Shouldn't House members have the same right with this very important legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: And I also said that we have all seen the House and Senate work before in the fashions that they believe are best for those institutions and those are decisions that are made by the leadership of the House, as they schedule votes. And the President, as I indicated, said whether it happens today, whether it happens tomorrow, whether it happens next month, it's important that it get done. If the judgment of the leadership of the House is that it can get done today, the President will accept that judgment.
Q So you wouldn't mind a delay, then? You wouldn't mind waiting a couple days or even until September?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, basically what I said is the President is not the scheduler of the House of Representatives.
Q What you were implying in your response to Kelly's question was that there was no way you were going to get the Democrats to participate in an agreement acceptable to the President because they were more interested in forcing the issue to a veto? Is that what you're saying? Is that what the President believes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the vote today will be very reflective about whether Democrats were free to vote a vote of conscience or whether they were voting because the Leadership asked them to vote against a patient bill of rights. There is no question that some Democrats have said they would rather have a political issue and they would rather have a veto. And that has unfortunately been the history of Washington for too many years.
So the President's message to the Congress was, let's get a compromise in the House of Representatives that can muster majority support. And, after all, I remember when I worked in the House of Representatives and the Democrats were able to put together majorities. They were pleased to assemble their majorities, and Republicans were in the minority at that time. They were pleased to assemble their majorities, and Republicans were in the minority at that time. And I don't remember very many questions about, why didn't you work with the Republicans, why isn't a majority good enough?
A majority, a bipartisan majority, even if it's a small one, is powerful, and it's a recognition that the Congress wants to work with the President to get a patients' bill of rights enacted into law. The President hopes that many Democrats will vote for it. But it's the Democrats decision, and it's the Democrats call whether they want to be a part of a partisan minority or a bipartisan majority.
Q Which Democrats specifically has said they'd prefer a partisan issue and a veto over --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question I've seen quotes from Senators that said that they want to get something done, but if they loose, we have an issue.
Q Ari, what's your definition of bipartisan? Like would one Democrat qualify this as a bi -- (laughter) -- no, I meant --
MR. FLEISCHER: There are party line votes. I think it's no question that there may be some Republicans who do not support this. There will be a few Democrats, perhaps a bigger number of Democrats, who support the President. But at the end of the day, there will be a majority assembled. And this majority will support a compromise that helps protects patients. It may be a slim party line vote. We'll see what the vote is. But still, at the end of the day, a majority is how you get things done in America. And if there's no majority, there's no patients' bill of rights.
Q On two issues near the President's heart, faith-based and the energy bill the House just passed. On faith-based, he proposed $86 billion in taxes; he got $8.6 billion. Now on energy, he proposed $10 billion, and the House passed $33.5 billion in tax credits. Is the President at all disturbed about this allocation of priorities by the House, that tax credits for those charitable giving are so much smaller than he proposed, but tax credits to major American industries -- energy industries -- are so much larger than he proposed?
That's one. Number two, is that $33.5 billion number too high?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a recognition that the Congress is not a rubber stamp. The President proposes and the Congress disposes, and that's the way it's always been in our republic. Even when presidents had overwhelmingly large majorities in the House or in the Senate, the House and the Senate are not the presidents' rubber stamps. They work their will, and they vote as they see fit.
The President would have preferred more funding for the faith-based initiative. The number the President submitted on the energy package was different from what the House passed, and so too were the priorities of the President, in terms of those tax provisions on energy.
Having said that, the President is very pleased that, for the first time in many a year the nation is heading toward a strong energy policy that will reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of oil. Whether that bill is a hundred percent reflective of what the President wanted or whether it's 80 to 85 percent is less important than the fact that progress is being made and that the President welcomes the progress.
Q Where is the money going to come from?
Q Will he do anything to reduce that tax credit number? Does he in any way believe it is either fiscally irresponsible too generous to any of the industries in the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, as we talk about here with other issues, this bill just passed the House, to the House's credit, and bipartisan credit. Now we'll see what the Senate does. The Senate has to speak. And then it will go to a conference committee.
And as always with the legislative process, there's room for compromise, room for give and take. The President is going to continue to work productively with Congress on that issue. But it was an overwhelming -- it was a strong bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, and that's important to be acknowledged.
Q Is there room for that kind of money in the budget? Where would that money come from? Medicare, Social Security?
MR. FLEISCHER: Room for money to come from on which?
Q Room for $33 billion worth of additional tax breaks. If that kind of package were to become law, what would happen to the budget? Would Medicare get raided, as it said? Would Social Security get raided?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, given the fact that the President proposed a budget that had a $1.6-trillion tax cut in it, and the version passed by the Congress was closer to $1.25 trillion, there is plenty of room in the budget to fund the President's priorities -- in education, in increased defense spending -- while saving every penny of Social Security for Social Security and to meet our nation's commitments.
Q Ari, any additional tax cuts, though, would be outside of the reconciliation process, as you know, which means they'd have to be paid for, which means that $33.5 billion would have to be paid for. Where are you going to find the offsets, particularly given OMB is coming out with a mid-session review showing declining budget surpluses? Where is the money going to come from? And it has to be paid for.
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. It appears that the nation is on track to have the second largest surplus in history. So while it may not be as large as the largest in history, it's as large as the second largest in history. It's another way of saying the surplus will no longer be gargantuan, it will be immense. As for the pay-fors, under the Senate rules, it is not considered under reconciliation. But under Senate rules, if somebody wants to make a Budget Act point of order and have it lie against the bill, they have that prerogative. It will require 60 votes, and the Senate is very familiar with the procedures it needs. So the Senate will work its will.
Q So do you think it's okay to have a super-majority, if needed, to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I am saying it is always important to work within the rules, and the Senate will work its will within the rules.
Q Ari, in the past, base-closing commissions have been comprised of members chosen by the President and Congress. Now there is a call for Congress to create a new commission with members appointed only by the President. Is that the White House view and what is your current thinking about a base-closing commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: DOD will be briefing on this a little bit later about what the proposal entails. But there were a number of concerns brought to the attention of the administration and the administration is going to listen to those concerns and work with Congress on the terms of any potential commission. So the administration is still going to work, to listen, and is open to change.
Q So you are listening to criticisms from Congress and are not necessarily determined to go ahead with something where the President would only appoint -- only the President would appoint the members?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does want to go ahead -- and he will -- in proposing a structure to have Congress consider the next round of how to use defense money wisely in terms of the number of bases and facilities our nation needs. In the process of doing that, he is going to listen to some constructive ideas from the Congress. And when the President submits the legislation, you will be able to judge for yourself where that question lies.
Q A growing number of pro-family groups have joined several medical organizations, calling for the removal of Dr. Coughlin as head of the CDC, because for 10 years he withheld information on the fighting of STDs, including human papilloma virus. Does the President have a position on this and will there be a review?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on that issue. Thank you.
Q On the issue of Congress disposing -- there are coming up a number of nominations, individuals associated, deeply associated with the Iran-Contra scandal. I was wondering, is the President confident that they are going to pass muster when they come before the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously nothing is happening -- we don't know the exact timing of what they are going to do and when they are going to do it, but the President hopes that the Senate will pass those nominees.
END 12:44 P.M. EDT
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