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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 7, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have an opening statement and then, if you would, at the end, I want to make sure I get to the week ahead.
The President is very concerned about the rise in unemployment, as was announced today. As President Bush indicated on Labor Day, for any one person who was out of a job, their unemployment rate is 100 percent. And he is concerned about anything that would indicate that Americans are being laid off, and he has a plan in place to address this issue.
The plan was agreed to by congressional Republicans and Democrats, an overwhelming bipartisan vote, particularly in the United States Senate. And the President believes very much that the stimulative effect of the tax cut, in combination with the series of interest rates cuts undertaken by the Federal Reserve will give the economy the boost it needs so that Americans can have the jobs they need.
And with that, I'd be more than happy to take any questions.
Q On that point, the Democrats are saying that the budgetary projections with deficits that are projected are now becoming their own drag on the economy, that they are prolonging the slow down in economic growth and threatening future growth and, in fact, these deficit projections in the budget may have their own part in creating these higher unemployment numbers. How do you respond to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's just the contrary. Most private sector experts have said directly that the stimulative effect of the tax cut will add to economic growth. So I think there is little support for what the Democrats have said.
The fact of the matter is, the existence of surplus results from growth. And the President believes the most important thing for the nation is to pursue growth policies that bring about jobs for Americans and also bring about surpluses for the government, keeping in mind that even with the economic slowdown that is now about 14 months old, the surplus is the second largest in American history.
Q So you disagree that these on-budget deficit projections are having any drag on the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The surplus is created as a result of growth. And growth is created as a result of the decisions the government makes, which are reflected in the budget. And in this case, the decision by the President, as well as the Congress and the many Democrats who supported the tax relief package, will help create an environment in which growth will take place as a result of the stimulative effect of a tax cut which is only now going into the effect in the economy.
Q But on that particular point, that they're arguing that the projection of on-budget deficits are having a drag on the economy, do you disagree, and why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, there is no projection of on-budget deficits. The administration projects that there will be on-budget surpluses. And, frankly, if you take a look at it from a pure economic point of view, the only surplus that matters from an economic point of view in terms of growth is how much money comes into the government and how much is spent. And on that question, the federal government has the second largest surplus in history.
Q Well, isn't that mostly for Social Security --
MR. FLEISCHER: Each dollar that comes in is measured against how much goes out. And when it's measured in that effect, the government has the second largest surplus in history.
Q So you still believe, then, that this surplus -- on-budget, off-budget -- is still an imaginary red line, and that the only true deficit is one --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a real line.
Q But the only true deficit, though, is when both the on-budget and the Social Security surplus --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Democrats are saying that markets react to on-budget, off-budget. Each dollar is economically viewed as the same. But from President Bush's point of view, it's a governmental priority, and he will continue to push for it, to protect Social Security. And his budget protects it.
Q So then, again, the only true deficit projection that would have an impact on the market were if both the on-budget and the off-budget surpluses were exhausted?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the key to budget surpluses is growth. And the President's plans create an environment in which growth takes place. And the budget is the reflection of the decisions that policy makers make. And in this case, it's the tax cut that will help drive the economy.
Q Ari, you said that the President has a plan in place to address this issue, and that the plan will give the economy the boost it needs. Is the President really confident that no additional measures will be necessary to move the economy forward, or to help people that are going out of work in a number nearing 5 percent now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that the plan that is in place will work. And let me remind you that that plan is only now beginning to be felt in the economy. And the plan is a three-part plan in the short term, and our nation has only experienced, now, about one and a half parts of that three-part plan: the rate cut across-the-board that went into effect on July 1st provided a small boost; the rebate checks that are now being felt throughout the economy provide a significant boost. And there will be the additional stimulative effect of an across-the-board tax cut for all Americans that goes into effect on January 1st.
That, combined with the fact that the Federal Reserve Board has cut interest rates for now a sustained period of time, provides the nation with a unique moment for both tax policy and Federal Reserve policy are kicking in at just at the moment the nation needs it most.
Q Just to follow up on that, Ari, how much time should the Congress -- will the White House, and should the public allow to pass in the current economic distress that's being felt before thinking that perhaps some additional measure beyond what the President has proposed or different from what the President has proposed should be attempted?
MR. FLEISCHER: The best advice of the economists, private sector and public sector, even taking into account rising unemployment has been that the economy is projected to come back late this year and into next.
Q Well, Ari, the text plan that did pass was originally touted as an insurance policy, itself. So what's wrong with another insurance policy like the capital gains tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President is satisfied at this time that this insurance policy will work.
Q So you're not worried that by supporting a capital gains tax cut that it would feed charges that the tax plan of the Bush administration is friendly to the wealthy and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and actually, the President is open-minded on the question of a capital gains tax cut.
Q Yet, he President appears to be closed-minded to the idea of spending any money from the Social Security surplus. Why would he do that if he believes in the stimulative effect of a tax cut if there are many economists who believe that you can stimulate the economy similarly with spending?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because that money was paid into Social Security by workers, and it was promised by the government to be held for Social Security, and the President thinks that promise should be kept, and his budgets keep the promise, he's dedicated to keeping the promise, and the promise will be kept unless Congress overspends.
Q Does this have any impact at all on your projections -- this, and slower-than-expected economic growth in the most recent figures? Does it change in any way the projections that the administration had over the next year or two? And did officials here anticipate that unemployment would reach this level, or is this a surprise?
MR. FLEISCHER: Unemployment, as you know, is a lagging economic indicator. In private markets there was talk for the last several months that the unemployment rate, they were surprised the unemployment rate did not inch up. But from President Bush's point of view, whether the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent or 4.9 percent, any one American who loses a job has 100 percent unemployment. And that's why his focus will remain, like a laser beam, on growth, on improving the economy. And that way the government and the country can enjoy surpluses bigger than the second largest, which we currently enjoy, and as well as giving a stimulative effect to the economy.
Q I understand that he feels the pain of anyone who's unemployed, but what I was asking really was whether or not your economic advisors anticipated this and, if not, does it change any of the projections you had?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, if you recall, I believe Mr. Lindsey gave an interview sometime in the spring or early summer in which he did indicate that he projected a rise in unemployment.
Q And was that included in your projection?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is clearly included in the projections for the mid-session review.
Q Ari, would you respond to this ruling about the discount cards and what the administration --
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you want to stay on that topic, or do you want me to come to that? Did you have something on that?
Q I have a follow on the unemployment, actually.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead. And then, Paula, I think you're on that topic and then, David, I'll be happy to take that.
Q Thank you, Ari. The President, yesterday, called migration, linked that to an employment issue. He said it's an employment issue. He said there are employers who can't find people to work. I'm wondering whether the new unemployment numbers make it more difficult to sell that line politically?
MR. FLEISCHER: It does not change the President's belief and the principle belief that America must be a nation that welcomes people, and that we need to welcome people, and that we need to welcome people in a manner that is legal, safe and humane.
Q Ari, when the House Minority Leader came out after meeting with the President, he invited the President to either come forward with a new budget or with some new budget ideas, because he said the current budget basically does not accurately reflect current or future economic conditions. Would the White House entertain doing anything at all in terms of modifying its budget?
And, also, I just need to clarify what you said this morning in terms of how you define a surplus, because regardless of how you define a surplus, don't the appropriators have to base their requests for spending on the budget resolution? And if things like the military come outside of that budget resolution, don't you have to abide by the pay-go rule, which means that you've got to find a way to pay for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, on the first question, I don't think it should surprise anybody that the people who voted against the budget would like the President to submit a new budget. They had their best shot, they voted, and they lost. There was a bipartisan majority that supported the budget, that passed the budget, and allowed the budget to be signed into law. So the President stands with the bipartisan majority that expressed its will and passed the budget.
On the technical question of pay-go, the rules are simple. It's defined by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Emergency Deficit Reduction Act, which dates back to the '80s, at a time when there were deficits. Now we're in an era where there are surpluses. We have the second largest, as I've indicated. It's projected to be even larger next year and into the out-years as far as the eye can see. The economic changes, the slowdown has not changed that long-term outlook.
To answer your technical question, under that law, any time there are two consecutive quarters of less than 1 percent growth, it affects such issues as sequesters, it affects such issues as the caps that are placed on spending.
Q Reaction to this ruling on the discount cards and what the administration would do next?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is disappointed by this stay. The President is dedicated to getting senior citizens prescription drugs and prescription drug coverage at as low a price as possible, and as fast as possible.
In effect, what the judge said is that this administration tried to help seniors too directly and too quickly. The President is proud to help seniors directly and quickly. And as evidence of the success of the program, as it was about to be announced and implemented, is that 28 organizations had applied to the federal government to participate in it, which is a sign of how strong a proposal this is.
The administration is considering its legal options for what the next course of action to take is, but this program with this prescription drug card, the President believes will serve our nation's seniors very well, and he's disappointed by today's stay.
Q If I can just follow up on that. That response from the administration is a political response, and says nothing -- does not speak to the merits legally of any potential challenge. Do you have anything to say about the merits of the decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why my last statement indicated that we're considering legal options.
Q But can you give some sort of response that goes to the merits and not just to the politics of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not a White House attorney, and so I would not presume to speak on the legalities of the case. Our lawyers -- I talked to them this morning, and White House lawyers are reviewing options.
Q But why should the American people listen to a political argument based on a legal ruling if you're not speaking to the merits of the ruling?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because merits of the ruling get discussed in courthouses.
Q But I just don't know why that's -- I mean, how does it inform anybody --
MR. FLEISCHER: The ruling came out last night. Our lawyers, as should be expected, are looking at the ruling right now. It's a stay; it's not a final ruling, and our lawyers are examining it, reviewing their options, and I'm not going to give you a statement that's based on a review that is underway.
I'd be more than pleased, once our lawyers have reached conclusions, to share that and share the legal reasoning.
Q So the court very well may be right?
MR. FLEISCHER: The court very well may be wrong. That's why you have lawyers.
Q But they could be right?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why you have lawyers.
Q Ari, let me see if I can move this ball a little further. The Health and Human Services Secretary this morning as much said is we're going to have to take this to Congress where there is no appetite for a prescription drug discount card. So what do you do next, in terms of -- I'm not talking about legal arguments, I'm talking about -- there are people high up in this administration who have pretty much thrown in the towel on the drug discount card. So what do you do next to get prescription drugs into the hands of seniors?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've left out some other information that the Secretary of Health and Human Services also said, which is that we're -- HHS is reviewing legal options, and that they are talking to the Justice Department about those options.
So I totally disagree with the characterization that any senior person has thrown in a towel. That's not the case. The ways to proceed next are several-fold. One, the President is dedicated to this because it helps seniors get prescription drugs and get them at as low a price as is possible. Proceed through legal options -- and, again, this is a stay, this is not a final determination by a court, and that's an important distinction.
Two, the President also has proposed to the Congress that Congress get moving on a Medicare reform proposal that includes giving prescription drugs to seniors. Now, many presidents have said that to many Congresses in the past. Sometimes if everybody waits for Congress, it may not get done in a time to help our seniors, which is why the President is dedicated to a two-fold approach to helping seniors get prescription drugs.
One, through this discount card that gets them to them quickly. And, two, through legislation.
Q I guess the very direct question then is, have you got something else in your back pocket should you not prevail?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the President -- well, legally, of course, you have to be bound by whatever the courts decide. And this is only a stay. But the President has called on Congress to pass a Medicare reform proposal that included prescription drugs. And, in fact, as you recall, there is action pending in the United States Senate which is a tri-partisan bill. It's Senator Breaux, a Republican, it's Senator Jeffords and the President is very pleased by the pending action that is taking place.
Senate Finance may move on this rather quickly, which would be a very strong sign. But let me remind you that sometimes when the American people wait for Congress to complete action on an item as big as a Medicare reform plan that includes prescription drugs, history shows the American people may be waiting for a longer period than they like. What's wrong with taking action in the interim to get seniors prescription drugs at a discount now?
Q Well, is the President going to weigh-in on this and really try to get it moving in Congress, Medicare reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, Helen. If you recall, the President had an event at the White House in the summer on Medicare reform; he announced his principles for reform and --
Q Why doesn't he focus on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Senate Finance Committee, as I just indicated, is taking a strong look and they may be moving shortly on a Medicare reform plan.
Q Ari, you've leaned considerably this afternoon on economists who sort of characterize how bad or how not-so-bad these unemployment numbers are. Someone you used to work for did so yesterday as well, Senator Pete Domenici, leaning on economists saying, you know, really, look, if we tap into the Social Security surplus in just a small way, it's not going to have a practical economic effect, it's not going to affect solvency of Social Security. It's not going to affect debt reduction, so why don't we just do it? Because we can fund important priorities that the President has identified -- education and defense -- and not materially affect either the economy or Social Security or debt reduction. Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The same answer I indicated to Mr. Gregory earlier. The President believes that the money that has come in for Social Security was promised from the government to the taxpayers; that if they pay their Social Security payroll taxes, the government will set aside for nothing but Social Security. And that is a promise that the President intends to keep, and his budget keeps it.
Q If I may follow up, so at the end of this process this year, you will, I presume, present to us and the American people a letter, maybe from OMB, possibly also from CBO, that will certify that this appropriations process this year, when it is fully completed, will in no way encroach upon the Social Security surplus?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what the administration budget projections indicate. And as you know, it's a very open and transparent process for all to see and all to judge. And I know I'll be standing at this podium and you will be the judges, and you will have the data in front of you.
Q But Congress -- the CBO projections, not OMB projections.
Q The GAO said today it's preparing to possibly take the White House to court over how Cheney created the -- well, his refusal to give documents on how he created the energy policy. What's your reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration stands on principle on this matter. And the administration believes very strongly that it is not a matter of public purview for each and every meeting, for each and every minute of the President and the Vice President, each and every day, to be reported publicly. And they stands on that as a matter of principle.
Q But what have you got to hide on that? Why can't you say who participated?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely nothing.
Q They what's the problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: But this administration will stand on principle.
Q Why shouldn't the American people know who contributed to the policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think the American people also recognize that a good government is a government that is allowed to have a certain level of deliberations in private, that they're allowed to have a certain level of meetings that take place so that ideas can be developed, that thoughts can be given, ideas can be shared, and so that each and every minute of the President's --
Q Well, this is what we want to hear, the thoughts that are being shared.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the President has shared those thoughts. And in the case of the energy plan, it has all been revealed. All the recommendations are known. All the recommendations are out. The recommendations were made after meeting with a variety of groups, some environmental, some business, some experts. And that's the manner in which the energy policy decisions were made.
Q Well, you know what the perception is, don't you, that only big oil has contributed. I mean, wouldn't you want to wipe that out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that's the perception.
Q Yes, it is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Among some people. And, again, this is a matter of principle, and that's why the administration has expressed its view so strongly to the GAO and will continue to do so.
Q Ari, on that same subject, could I just follow up? I'm trying to figure out what the contours of this principle are, because you're also saying you're willing to assert executive privilege to protect records at the Justice Department about decisions that prosecutors are making there. People have decision-making discussions, float ideas in government departments, not just in the White House, across the entire executive branch. Is it your view that all those conversations, that all that policy-making should be protected from congressional inquiry?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you have to look at each request and judge it on its merits. And in the case of the request for each and every person who met with the Vice President in each and every minute of his process on the energy package, that, the administration believes is not, number one, authorized under the law. The GAO must operate strictly under the law that authorizes their investigatory powers.
Those investigatory powers undeniably give them the right to financial information about how the administration spends appropriated money. The administration has complied and has cooperated and given full information about the spending of the money, because, in the administration's judgment, that is covered under the statute. It is a debatable point, it is a legal matter about whether or not the GAO has additional authority to go beyond that. And that's what's in dispute here.
Q But I was referring more to the situation at the Justice Department. It seems if you're going to protect conversations among prosecutors, you could protect conversations, perhaps, at the Commerce Department or the Agriculture Department. Are you saying it's not legitimate for Congress to inquire into decision-making, because it could chill that decision-making in government departments?
MR. FLEISCHER: Each decision will be made based on the merits, and in this case, the administration is prepared to invoke its authority to protect the confidentiality of important communications involving Justice Department officials in matters pertaining to the previous administration.
I have not exactly heard a number of Democrats on the Hill supporting Congressman Burton in this case, so I think there is some question about whether or not this is another fishing expedition, another investigation that Congress has carried out that's going too far.
Q Are you prepared to invoke executive privilege on the NADCP -- or, sorry, the NEPDC documents?
MR. FLEISCHER: NEPDC -- would you like to spell that out?
Q National energy policy development.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, that's a separate issue. This is a question of whether or not something is covered under statute.
Q But the documents that the GAO is seeking, are you prepared to invoke executive privilege to protect --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a question in this case, because it's a wholly separate matter of law. The issue here involving the law is whether or not the GAO has the authorization to seek it under the statute that grants the GAO investigatory powers. And that's a legal dispute.
Q But, should they prevail in court, would you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals.
Q Well, here is the question on that. There are a couple of questions about this. One, I want to make sure I understand what the administration believes GAO is asking for. As I understand it, they narrowed -- in the back and forth between the administration, they narrowed their request, no longer asking for minutes of meetings, simply asking for who attended what meeting.
Even that, the White House believes is an infringement?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's covered under the same statute and the administration has made its point clear and will continue to stand on principle about the right of members -- of the Vice President, in this case -- to not have to report each and every minute of each and every day to any congressional investigator who asks for the information.
Q This was pursuant to a specific policy and who met. But you're saying, that's what you're saying that's what you object to?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Now, the administration could simply certify this as being beyond the purview of GAO, why don't you take that step?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the Freedom of Information Act? Is that what you're discussing?
Q No. Doesn't the administration have the right to simply say that, we believe that to certify this is not under GAO's authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's exactly what the administration has done in the case of this particular request from the GAO.
Q No, you just denied their request, you haven't actually done the certification, have you?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has made it clear that we do not believe that this is covered under the GAO statute.
Q Ari, can you speak to the dispatch of the envoy to Northern Ireland, what the short-term objective is and what the administration's hopes --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the administration, the President had announced quite some time ago a point person for Ireland. And State Department I think has indicated that there is going to be a trip next week, and I would refer you to State, beyond that.
Q On the nursing home story, can you tell us exactly when and how that proposal was rejected?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the nursing home story there were some discussions at the White House about some various options that took place some more than two weeks ago. And any options dealing with any changes in the nursing home procedures that could lead to less inspections were rejected out of hand.
Q At that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And who was at that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll get you the exact names of the people, Ron.
Q Were there HHS people in there, or was it all White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I have to get the names of the people. But it was rejected out of hand and went no further. And in fact, the administration and the President believes very strongly that it's a federal responsibility to protect seniors in nursing homes and to have a stringent inspection regime of nursing homes -- the so-called good and the bad -- to make certain that when families put seniors in nursing homes, those nursing homes are safe and reliable and protect our seniors.
Q Let me follow up. What was rejected out of hand? The very proposal that was reported in The New York Times today?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And can you post later on today who was in the meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to get the information, Ron.
Q But is it not still open for debate how to create safer nursing homes, considering the fact that HHS has limited resources to deal with this inspection system?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, everybody in government believes they have limited resources, which is an ongoing issue.
Q But is it true in this case?
MR. FLEISCHER: That they have limited resources?
Q And that you're trying to explore different ways of making sure safety is better at the poorer nursing homes.
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration is dedicated to making certain that -- ensure that homes are inspected and there would be no change in that policy that would weaken nursing home inspections.
Q What would be the bad? What would be wrong or incorrect about shifting resources toward the ones that are routinely bad, away from ones that are routinely good?
MR. FLEISCHER: You would have to address that to anybody who is advocating that policy; the administration is not.
Q You said you made that clear to The New York Times, yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, Helen.
Q And they still ran the story?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. There was a conversation yesterday afternoon and into the evening.
Q But, Ari, to follow on Major's question, you also said that you rejected a proposal that would call for just that. Was there any discussion about whether the administration could roll back inspection of the nursing homes that have consistently shown --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- there was an option discussed that would have done what The New York Times reported, and the option was rejected by the White House out of hand.
Q Were you able to tell The New York Times who was in that meeting and exactly what was rejected?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'll try to get that information for you.
Q You weren't able to provide them with that information yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if The New York Times asked that question, Ron, but --
Q Ari, while you're getting us this list of names of people who participated in this meeting, could you get us the names of people that the Vice President talked to -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I knew that was coming.
Q Case by case.
Q On Donald Schregardus, was the administration aware, or is it now aware, of the EPA review of what had happened in Ohio? And does it make any difference at all to the administration with regard to his nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration is -- President Bush and the administration believe that he is the right man for the job, and will continue to push for his nomination. If you take a look at that report, it indicates that Ohio -- and I'm reading from it now -- it found that Ohio's criminal enforcement program is among the best in the nation.
And Mr. Schregardus has a record that in Ohio reduced toxic emissions to the environment by 50 percent, increased the number of stream-miles fully achievable for fishing, and swimmable goals under the Clean Air Act by 50 percent. He implemented air pollution control programs in 88 counties in the state to achieve national air quality standards for the first time. So the administration stands behind its nominee.
Q Are you concerned at all about the matter involving Mr. Jayko, and the fact that he was reinstated after a court determined that he had been fired or removed from his job for having tried to pursue a case, a cluster of leukemia cases?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the administration stands behind the nominee.
Q Ari, on the budget?
Q Ari, the -- Paula, you may be heading in this direction also. What we now are beginning to see is an increasingly partisan disagreement about the economy and who's to blame. And I know you are loath to invoke any sort of partisan quotations from the podium. But Gephardt, outside the West Wing a few moments ago, said this economy started going bad six months ago, and it's the President budget that is contributing not only to that problem, but to the ongoing problem. You have said, and the President has said, and drawn a lot of attention to the fact the economy began to slow down during the Clinton administration.
Are the American people due not for a rational discussion about the economy but a partisan mud-fest about who is to blame?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and that's why I've always indicated that President Bush knows that on January 20th at noon, it was his responsibility to protect the economy and to protect America's workers. And he has done so. He, in November of 1999, announced a tax plan, one component of which was to have an insurance policy against any future downturns. And his words proved to be accurate.
In spring of 2000, the American economy grew at a rate in excess of 5 percentage points. In the summer of 2000, the economy began to -- grew at a rate of 2 percentage points. The slowdown, clearly by all measures, began going to the summer of 2000.
But what's most important is who has a plan to do something about it. President Bush has an economic recovery plan that is going into effect. I'm not aware of any Democrat proposals for economic recovery plans. I know that many Democrats voted against the economic recovery plan that the President offered.
A smaller group of Democrats voted for it, and the President will continue to work with all Democrats who will work with him on programs that can get passed into law to protect America's workers and to grow the economy.
But there should be no misunderstanding about the timing and the dates. They speak for themselves about the facts of the slowdown. But what's important is what is going to be done about it now.
Q So Mr. Gephardt is deceiving the American public when he says the slowdown began six months ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll simply let the facts speak for themselves. In the spring of 2000, growth was in excess of 5; summer of 2000, it was down to 2; and the fall of 2000 it shrank even further. It diminished to the point of .2 percent in the spring of 2001. And now there is a plan in place to help get the economy growing again.
But, typically, also -- and I think this is a great amount of comfort to the American people -- slowdowns typically last a year, year-and-a-quarter, a year-and-a-half. And the President is confident that he has a plan in place the get the economy growing again and he's grateful to the many Democrats -- again, particularly in the Senate -- who voted for it. But there were 28 in the House, as well.
Q Ari, as far as funding the legislative priorities, you apparently aren't going to take up Gephardt's invitation to re-fashion your budget. And you don't want to dip into Social Security, you don't want to re-visit the tax cut plan. What else is there, in terms of funding, other than an across-the-board-spending cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's budget provides large increases in funding for his priorities, and those are all taken into account in the budget. Education, for example, grows under the President's budget; defense spending grows. And let me just remind you that spending does not come from the surplus -- the surplus is what's left over after all the taxes are cut and the spending increases are made. That's what the surplus is for.
And it's an odd argument to say that the surplus shrunk and we can't spend the surplus, which is what the Democrats seem to be saying, because they would seem to want to spend it down to the point where there is nothing left to spend.
Q But as you know, the appropriators, when they work on trying to figure out how to pay for all of this, base it on the budget resolution. And, unless I'm mistaken, the amount that is wanted for defense and education goes beyond that blueprint. Is that not correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the budget resolution provided for increasing those accounts.
Q To the point of $18 billion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there were increases in there and we're going to continue to work with Congress on exactly how to get the budget settled. But as you know, Congress is bound by CBO numbers. But after the budget is passed, then it's the OMB numbers that prevail. And so it's a very complicated budget process -- it always has been -- where Congress has to use CBO numbers as the process moves through the Congress, but after a matter is signed into law and becomes a matter of administration, the courts have recognized that OMB numbers prevail.
Q I didn't think there was a set rule for that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there is. There's a court case that settled it.
Q One other thing.
MR. FLEISCHER: You may put people to sleep with this. Maybe not.
Q What did you mean, "may"? (Laughter.)
Q Ari, what was that court case, can you get us that court citation?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was, there was a suit against the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in the '80s -- or the '90s, I'm sorry. And the courts ruled that it's a matter of administration. And when it comes to matters of administration of appropriated accounts, only the executive agency can be authoritative. And that's why the court held that OMB has the final role.
Q Ari, on the Minority Leader's visit this morning, he also had some pointed comments for you on your claims that the Democrats want to raise taxes. Mr. Gephardt said: I don't know where he got that, unless he made it up. So, your response to that? And where did you get it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I got it from reading the press. Let me give you a citation. August 28th, this is one of the nation's leading networks: Opening the door to tax increases, a leading Senate Democrat said Tuesday that a plan to "raise revenue" could be needed to make up any budget shortfalls. They cited Senator Kent Conrad, as I indicated this morning when I said the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Further reading from the press, August 23rd -- this is just two weeks ago: House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt recently said that the Democrats don't want to repeal this year's rebate or proposed future tax increases. He suggested, however, that some "minor adjustments" in the size of the cuts already scheduled for future years might be helpful.
Well, if you adjust the -- maybe he was suggesting additional tax cuts. But other than that, any minor adjustments would be tax increases, of course.
Q Ari, can you tell us about -- preview education week for us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me get you the week ahead. I promise not to use the words "OMB" or "CBO" on the entire week ahead.
The President will launch an initiative beginning tonight and it will continue into next week that is a reminder of the importance of reading throughout America. He and Mrs. Bush will give a series of remarks and will also, in the case of the President, remind the Congress of the importance of sending the education package to the White House so that we can improve our public schools.
Specifically -- and now let me give you the entire events for the week -- the President on Sunday will participate in a coin toss to kick off the NFL season. That will take place in the Rose Garden on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, the President will go to the Navy Yard with the Prime Minister of Australia for an event and he'll have a working lunch and a meeting with the Prime Minister in the White House. In the afternoon on Monday, the President will continue his focus on reading and education when he travels to Jacksonville, Florida, and then on to Sarasota, Florida.
He'll return to the White House on Tuesday afternoon, where he will host, in the evening, the Congressional Barbecue on the South Lawn. Also on Tuesday, Mrs. Bush will make remarks on early child cognitive development to Senator Kennedy's committee.
On Thursday, President and Mrs. Bush will make remarks at the White House Assembly on Reading at the Library of Congress. And on Friday, the President will help dedicate the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and he'll host a reception in honor of Diez y Seis before departing for Camp David.
Q The Sunday Rose Garden event, is that open for coverage?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it is.
Q Thank you.
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