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News & Policies
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Index
President's schedule for the day.........................1-2 Readout on meeting with Singapore Senior Minister..........2 Middle East/Sharon.................................2-7, 9-14
U.N. mission to Jenin......................3-4, 7, 9-11
Saudi Arabia role...............................4-5, 12
Views of other Arab nations..................6-7, 10-11
Chairman Arafat......................................11 Iraq/United States policy..........................2-3, 9-10 Congressional resolution in support of Israel............5-6 President Carter visit to Cuba...........................7-8 China/visit of Vice President Hu..................8-9, 12-14
China/North Korea....................................14 Homeland Security/Cabinet level...........................12 Philippines/Burhnam missionaries..........................13 Student loans..........................................15-16 EU meeting................................................16
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 1, 2002
PRESS BRIEFING BY
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and I've got two announcements for you. The President began this morning with a meeting with the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate and the Minority Leader of the House. He also had his usual intelligence briefings and FBI briefings. Then he met with the Senior Minister of Singapore to talk about the war against terrorism and cooperation, as well as other regional issues.
The President also had a meeting with Republican House and Senate leadership. Both in that meeting and the meeting with the leaders this morning, the President discussed the war, gave an update, and then talked about the importance of moving forward on the domestic agenda, particularly in regard to trade promotion authority, faith-based legislation, welfare reform, and many other items that were discussed with the members of Congress.
Later this afternoon in the Rose Garden, the President will participate in a Medal of Honor presentation ceremony. And finally, this evening the President will meet -- or this afternoon -- with the Vice President of the People's Republic of China in the Oval Office.
The President will also meet with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House on May 8th to discuss developments in the Middle East, as well as other key bilateral issues.
And finally, on a somewhat lighter note, this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the White House, we'll host opening day of the 2002 T-ball season. This Sunday's game will feature two teams that were scheduled to play each other at the White House on September 16th, but had their game cancelled because of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The President is very pleased to invite these teams back to the White House. One team is the Uniondale Little League Sluggers from Uniondale, New York. And the other is the 6&11 Little League Sluggers from Trenton, New Jersey.
I'm also pleased to announce on behalf of the President that the President has appointed Cal Ripken, Jr., formally of the Baltimore Orioles, to serve as honorary commissioner of the White House T-ball League.
And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions. Ron.
Q Can you give us a readout on the Singapore meeting? And when is the Prime Minister of Israel coming to the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second question, the exact date is not yet determined. I think we're looking most likely at some time next week. We'll give you an exact date once we have it.
Q -- end of the week?
MR. FLEISCHER: We don't have it determined yet. We're working with Israel on the exact timing of it.
The meeting with the Senior Minister of Singapore focused a good part on the war against terrorism. The President expressed his great gratitude to Singapore for their strong efforts and their help for the United States in the alliance in the war against terrorism. They talked about other regional issues as well.
Q What is the President's rational for invading Iraq? I've been reading stories every day of preparations, no set plan yet I admit, but anyway, all of the senior administration officials talk all the time, including the President, about a change of regime. What is the rational for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, the President does believe that the people of Iraq, as well as the region, would be better off without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.
Q A lot of people would be better off in a lot of places.
MR. FLEISCHER: Can I continue? And if you recall, Helen, the Congress passed last year -- or in a previous administration -- legislation that made regime change the official policy of the government. And that was signed into law by President Clinton. So President Bush is continuing --
Q What law was that?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's called the Iraqi Liberation Act, signed -- passed by --
Q Did it say we were going to overturn --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- passed by the House and the Senate, signed into law by President Clinton. Regime change, in whatever form it takes, is the policy of the United States government, under President Clinton, continued under President Bush.
Q So what is President Bush's rationale for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, that the President believes that the people of Iraq, as well as the region, will be more peaceful, better off without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq, given the fact that Saddam Hussein has invaded two of his neighbors.
Q That's not a reason. There are a lot of people all over the world --
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if you were the President, you could have vetoed the law. (Laughter.) President Clinton signed it, and the President will keep it enforced.
Q That's not an answer, either.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell.
Q Ari, does the U.S. still support the U.N. fact-finding mission in Jenin?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States does support fact-finding in Jenin. The United States worked with the United Nations to try to bring about an agreement between Israel and the United Nations, so that fact-finders could go into Jenin and make a determination. The Security Council has been working very hard on this issue. Secretary Powell has spoken repeatedly with Secretary General about it, and has spoken with Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister of Israel, who has been Israel's principal point of contact with the United Nations.
You can anticipate that later this afternoon the Security Council is having a meeting about this; that will take place late this afternoon. And we'll see precisely what the Security Council and the Secretary General say. So that's where it stands. But yes, the President does support transparency, so the people can find out what did, or did not, take place in Jenin.
Q I know you rejected this earlier, but if we get into a situation whereby Sharon is allowed to unilaterally reject having a U.N. mission take place, do you, in effect, set a precedent that puts us in a situation where Saddam Hussein could even come back later, and say, well, you didn't force Sharon to allow U.N. fact-finders in, why should I then allow U.N. weapons inspectors in? Is it the same?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think any comparison of a sovereign nation, a member state of the United Nations like Israel, which is working with the United Nations as a sovereign nation, to a nation that fought a war, lost a war, and had the terms of an armistice agreed to by that nation as surrender terms -- comparing the situation of Iraq to Israel is wholly without any basis. Don't forget what Iraq agreed to Iraq agreed to as the terms to end a war.
Q Did the President and the Crown Prince Abdallah agree, informally or formally, that they would proceed on two tracks with the Saudis talking to Arab nations to gain support for a way to end the violence in the Middle East, and the U.S. talking to Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill, it's always been the President's view that the way to bring peace to the Middle East was to work with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab nations, to find ways for all the parties to work together. And that involves multiple conversations on multiple levels. And so I think it's over-simplistic to say that one group of nations is going to target one group. It's always going to be interactive.
What has happened that is a very positive development which has taken place since the meeting in Crawford is that the President and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia have established a very good relationship and Saudi Arabia is playing a very constructive role in helping others to help themselves so peace can be brought to the Middle East.
The United States will continue to press the Arab nations to fulfill their responsibilities to bring peace. The United States will continue to press the Palestinian Authority to fulfill their obligations to stop terrorism. And the United States will continue to press Israel to fulfill its obligations by continuing the withdrawal and entering into political talks with the Palestinians so that a vision of a state can be realized. The United States will continue to work all three accounts, if you will, and the United States welcomes the help from other nations. And as you heard, King Abdullah from Jordan will be here next week.
And that's part and parcel of something I think you've seen from the very beginning of President Bush's term in 2001. President Bush has invested a lot of time in personal meetings and phone calls with the Arab leaders in the region, and I think to good effect.
Q But is it fair to say that the Saudis are now playing a special and expanded role here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'll leave it to Saudi Arabia to describe whether or not they see their role as changed. I can only tell you from the President's point of view, he sees the role of the Saudis as constructive and positive. And he's appreciative of that.
Q Ari, Senator Daschle said that this morning he told the President that he wants to bring a resolution as early as this week to the Senate floor, a resolution supporting Israel in its crackdown on terrorism. Did the President ask the Senator to hold off on bringing such a resolution to the floor?
MR. FLEISCHER: Here's where the President is on the various discussions in both the House and the Senate on resolutions. The President is understanding of the fact that Congress wants to say something in a non-binding fashion about events in the Middle East. That is something that Congress does from time to time. The President understands that it's delicate right now in the Middle East. He believes Congress understands that, as well. The President thinks that Congress also understands that no foreign policy can survive 535 different Secretaries of State.
So the administration will continue to work with crafters of non-binding resolutions. It's actually been very cooperative with members of the Hill. And I say that again; it's somewhat of a balancing act, Kelly. On the one hand, the President understands the urgings of Congress to speak out in a non-binding way. On the other, the carrying out of foreign policy is the purview of the Executive Branch.
Q Let me just follow on that. Because we know the White House did ask Tom DeLay to hold off, when he was going to bring his resolution to the House floor, asking -- saying right now it could, "inflame the situation." So is the sense right now -- you said it's delicate -- that any resolution right now could potentially inflame a delicate situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: It all depends on what it says. Again, I note that it's non-binding, so the precise language is important. But just as the President congressional affairs people did with the House, they do with the Senate. They meet and they talk to the various people in the Senate or the House who have ideas, and we try to work these things together and cooperatively.
Q What was the President's reply to the Majority Leader, when he said, I'm thinking of having this resolution come forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wasn't literally in the meeting, and so -- the President and the Vice President were the only two from the administration in the meeting.
Q Can you check on that for us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's see if I can get something.
Q Ari, some of the so-called third parties to the Middle East peace process seem to think that we're moving closer to a summit at this point. Do you have anything on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think anything of that nature is premature. The President understands that there still is a lot of work that has to be done on the ground in the Middle East at many levels before this rises up to the summit level. What has happened, though, however, is as a result of many of the meetings and phone calls that the President is engaged in, as well as the valiant and tremendous ongoing efforts of the Secretary of State, who is probably kept more busy by this issue than any other issue, some recent progress has been made in the Middle East.
In a region that has been marked by notes of despair, at long last positive notes are beginning to sound. That's caveated by the fact that the history of this region is that positive notes are often followed by sour notes, difficult notes. And so this will continue to be an issue that the President is mindful of. Through every couple steps forward, there are times when there are a couple steps backwards. So this is an ongoing process, but what's important now is that all the parties, the President believes, need to see that violence will get them nowhere, that the way to solutions in the Middle East are through political processes, and that that's where he's focused, and with some good effect.
And again, I would urge you to -- go back and take a careful look, from the very beginning of this administration, how much effort this President has made, talking with the Arab leaders in the region, the numerous phone calls, the numerous meetings, the ongoing contacts. I mean, that's very productive, and it takes time sometimes for it to pay off. But early indications are, for the first time, pretty good.
Q Back to what Campbell brought up earlier, about Jenin. You have restated the administration's position, but are you concerned at this point that too much time has maybe gone by, allowing either side to so-call sanitize the area?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, listen, one, it's important, and this has been done, that Jenin be open to the press. Even without a U.N. fact-finding mission, if that's the case, transparency can still be found. There still can be people who go to Jenin and make an independent analysis and give their indications. We will see if any of the initial is overstated or overblown. People are there and are free to make their judgments.
But what the President thinks is very important, as well, is that the world focus on the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people in Jenin and elsewhere.
There still are vital humanitarian concerns that need to be addressed to help the Palestinian people to have a bright future. And that's why the President has supported aid from the United States government to the Palestinian people, continues to support that. That's why there was a recent conference in Oslo, to focus on an international way of bringing people together to bring aid to the Palestinian people. And that still is the President's focus.
Q Ari, a few weeks ago, I believe, when the story first broke that ex-President Jimmy Carter was contemplating going to Cuba, you made some statements from that podium as to what the White House would like him to do if he were to go there. Well, he is going there. My first question is, have there been contacts with the White House and ex-President Carter in a direct or indirect way concerning this trip? And second, is there anything you'd like to add that he could ask when he goes there?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, this would be a very good opportunity for former President Carter to remind President Castro of the need to bring freedom and opportunity and democracy to the people of Cuba, who have been oppressed. This would be very helpful in sending that signal that freedom and democracy are important in Cuba, and Cuba is one of the last nations left on this Earth that has such an abysmal human rights record.
I can take a look -- I am not aware of any contacts, but I'll have to ask the NSC if anybody there has had any contacts. Because I can't speak for everybody.
Q The reason I'm asking, because it's traditional when an ex-President travels somewhere, there's always contacts either with the State Department and usually with the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of that.
Q Can you check?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes -- I'm going to check.
Q On the China meeting this afternoon, can you tell us what the White House hopes to gain out of this meeting, and particularly in light of the fact that there's some time before there would be a transition of leadership in China?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is looking forward to his meeting with the Vice President. Technically, this meeting is -- the visit of the Vice President to China is being hosted by Vice President Cheney. We want to work with China to build a constructive and cooperative relationship. There are many areas with which the United States and China have strong relations, particularly in the areas of trade. Leadership visits are an important part of our bilateral relationship.
I think the President has met or will have met with President Jiang Zemin of China four times in a 12-month period. China has been helpful in the war on terrorism, and the President may thank the Vice President for that. And there will be areas where we disagree. Those issues have been brought up directly by the President when he visited China. Those issues are in the area particularly of religious freedom and human rights.
So it's scheduled for a 20-minute meeting. I'll try to give you a report afterwards.
Q Can you tell me if the President intends to bring those issues up again today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's a 20-minute meeting and I'll try to give you a report afterwards.
Q How will the President and Vice President respond to Taiwan -- to China's concerns over our Taiwan policy to building stronger defense ties with Taiwan?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President can be expected to reiterate America's longstanding position toward Taiwan, which is very well-known, and that is that we seek a peaceful resolution of any differences between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan; that we do not wish to see provocation on either side of the Taiwan Strait in this context. And in conformity with the Taiwan Relations Act, we will conduct all our affairs with China.
Q Ari, back on Jenin. Does the President believe sufficiently in transparency to make a call to Prime Minister Sharon to let this happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, this issue has been worked on very hard by numerous people, and the Security Council will have something to say later today, and I may have something more for you after the Security Council has its chance.
Q Ari, you talked about, in talking about U.S. policy toward Iraq, you said a regime change in whatever form it takes. Is that a tacit endorsement of assassination of Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know the law as far as what is concerned, and any actions the American government takes will always be in conformance with the law.
Q Ari, back on the Iraq situation, with your words there, are you putting out formal notice for Saddam Hussein that the next wave on the war on terrorism would be imminently against him and his country?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, just answering a question about America's multiyear policy now of regime change. Keep in mind this was an act of Congress signed by a President, is law of the land, and our administration is committed to the law of the land.
Q Those are very strong words that you uttered just a few moments ago --
MR. FLEISCHER: Regime change?
Q No, when you said that you believe that the people of Iraq would be better off without Saddam Hussein.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure those are strong or weak, I think it's simply accurate. I mean, Saddam Hussein has launched two wars against his neighbors -- against Iran and against Iraq. He's used chemical weapons against his own people. He has created conditions in Iraq that have been very difficult on the Iraqi people. I think there's no question that the people of Iraq and the region will be safer and freer and in more peace without Saddam Hussein at the helm.
Q Ari, does the President believe that Israel is damaging its own best interests by blocking the Jenin mission, U.N. mission --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I think that I've addressed it as fully as I can. The Security Council will have more to say later and let's see what the Security Council says.
Q Yes. You were talking about the message being passed to people in the region that violence will get them nowhere. In the past, some of the moderate Arab nations have taken the view that Palestinian acts of violence were legitimate acts of resistance to occupation. Are you suggesting today that they have now fallen away from that view? And can you tell us that any of our Arab allies are now passing messages to Yasser Arafat telling him that terrorism is no longer an appropriate means of pursuing a Palestinian state?
MR. FLEISCHER: I won't presume to speak for what other sovereign nations are saying in their communications. I think you can get that from them. But I will tell you that the President does make it a point when he visits with Arab leaders to remind them about the key role that Arab nations can play, particularly those Arab nations that really have demonstrated a willingness to work toward peace, nations that have recognized Israel, nations like Saudi Arabia that have moved forward with a peace proposal of their own.
The President never misses an opportunity to remind Arab nations that they, too, have a role to play in convincing the Palestinian Authority that terrorism is never an answer. And he conveys that to them very directly and bluntly.
Q I don't doubt that the President tells them that in every meeting. The question is whether or not they're actually responding to his request.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated with Saudi Arabia, the President views the Saudis' role as being very positive and constructive. I just, as a matter of protocol, will not presume to speak for a sovereign nation and what they tell a third nation. But I think that's easily obtainable.
Q -- I was going to ask if any of our Arab allies, do you believe, are now passing the message the President is obviously conveying?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that the President followed up his remarks from the Rose Garden with direct conversations with the Arab leaders about their responsibilities, as well as he did with Israel, and as well as he's done with the Palestinian Authority. And there have been several encouraging signs as late. The President is looking forward to his visit with King Abdullah again.
Q By the way, nice going on Leno. Two questions. You said the U.S. supports a fact-finding or fact-finding in Jenin, but you didn't say the U.N. Does that mean that you would support, for example, a British-American fact finding group? And also, would the U.S. --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, let me be clear. The President called for transparency, and the President called for the facts to be found. And the United States was working to try to help reach an agreement between Israel and the United Nations. So that applies to the United Nations.
Q It would have to be a U.N. fact-finding mission?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President indicated fact-finding. And I think that the President was supportive of the efforts by the United Nations to be the fact-finders.
Q Also, on Arafat, would the U.S. like to see Arafat go into exile and relinquish his leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made clear that as part of the agreement when he talked to Prime Minister Sharon Saturday morning, that Yasser Arafat should be free to travel, to travel around the world, and as he traveled, to be able to return to the region.
Q Ari, the bill to establish the Cabinet level Department of National Homeland Security is going to be formally introduced tomorrow. What's the view here on that now?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll take a careful look at the language of the bill. I haven't had a chance to talk to the legislative people specifically about that one bill. So let me see if I can't take a look at that, and I'll keep you advised.
Q Plus a readout.
MR. FLEISCHER: Three postings, one readout. Do you want to come back and brief?
Q Can you clarify, do we now regard the Saudis as our leading Arab partner in the Mideast peace process, sort of first among equals, or do we regard them as one of the leading partners?
MR. FLEISCHER: Deborah, I've just never heard the President be linear about it. I've never heard him compare one to the other or describe it. What the President has said is that the Saudis have played a very positive and constructive role, and he's appreciative for that.
Q -- report today that suggests that we now have a partnership, us and the Saudis, that is in some way different from our relationship with other moderate Arab states, in terms of working toward the peace process. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd just leave it again as I did. I'm literally describing it the way the President does. The President views the Saudi efforts as being very positive and constructive and helpful.
Q Also, the Israelis produced some documents last week that they said showed the Saudis had funded the families of homicide bombers. Do we believe those documents to be genuine?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard of that report, Deborah, so I don't have anything to offer on it.
Q Ari, on the Chinese visit, would you acknowledge that the world knows relatively little about Hu Jintao? And if so, does that make the President determined to get to know him personally much better in coming months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President met with Vice President Hu during President Bush's last trip to China, if you recall, when the President went to a university in Beijing and spoke, his host was Vice President Hu. They had a meeting with several other people at that time, prior to the President's speech. And I think it's fair to say that around the world, the President looks forward to these opportunities to meet with leaders of other nations. And that's why they're getting together. He's the Vice President of China.
Q Ari, it's been suggested by some U.S. and Philippine officials that the rescue -- efforts to rescue the American missionaries that are held in the Philippines, the Burnhams, may have to be deemphasized, because of schedule lag for U.S. troops there. What do you know about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that. I have not heard that.
Q Does the President -- what kind of -- does he place a premium on the Burnhams' safe return? And how does that fit in with the strategy to go after al Qaeda in the Philippines, without jeopardizing the missionaries' safety?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not really certain that there's any connection between the two, in that sense. In fact, military missions have a very positive effect on winning wars against terrorists, and therefore, deterring those who would bring harm to American citizens. And that's why the President has worked so closely with President Arroyo of the Philippines, in terms of the United States mission that is down there to help train and work with the Philippine military.
Q Ari, President Bush has called Ariel Sharon a man of peace. This is the same Ariel Sharon that led the massacre of 69 civilians at the West Bank village of Qibya in 1953. The Kahan Commission, the Israeli Commission of Inquiry, found Sharon indirectly responsible for the '82 massacre of 900 civilians in Sabra and Shatila. And he was forced to resign a result as Defense Minister. And now we have these press reports saying that the Israeli soldiers have killed more than 20 innocent civilians in Jenin. And so when he called Sharon a man of peace, what was that based on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, I think there's no question that the people of Israel want peace. People of Israel are -- Israel is a democracy, and Ariel Sharon is the representative of the people of Israel. And all the efforts that the President has made with Prime Minister Sharon, as well as with the Arab leaders, and as well as with the Palestinian Authority, have one goal in mind, and that is to work toward peace. And that's what he's continuing to do, productively with Prime Minister Sharon and the other leaders in the region.
Q Ari, when President Bush was in Beijing a couple of months ago, he asked President Jiang Zemin to help out as a sort of a bridge between the United States and North Korea. Yesterday these meetings were announced between the United States and North Korea. I'm wondering whether China played any kind of a constructive role in helping to bring those out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you would have to ask China to describe if they played any type of role. Suffice it to say, from the President's point of view, he has made repeatedly clear the United States is open to discussions with North Korea, without any pre-conditions. There are a variety of important issues, such as the agreed framework, that the President wants to talk with North Korea about -- missile proliferation, as well as conventional weapons that North Korea has very close on the border with South Korea. So there's a rather full agenda that the President would want to have discussed through official channels. And we received the word from the North Koreans yesterday that they, at long last, were prepared to talk. And that's a positive note.
Q Will the President support Congressman Bob Ehrlich for Governor of Maryland, and commend his announced willingness to debate Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is so far unwilling to debate? He'll support Bob Ehrlich, won't he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President will always support Republican nominees, in all offices.
Q But since the President is a devout church member, and since
Newsweek's cover story this week includes the claim that what happened in ancient Sodom, "was really about a failure of hospitality," does the President believe this, and that our sodomy laws should be, therefore, revised to punish only inhospitality? I mean, it's a cover story in Newsweek, and he is a devout church member. How does he feel about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I will look forward to reading this week's issue of Newsweek. I have read some excerpts, I've read some articles. I haven't read it all.
Q And you'll get back to me, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I will read it all.
Q Why is the administration not going forward with a budget proposal to change student loans from fixed to variable rates as a way to cut down on costs to the program?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a problem in the Pell Grant proposal that was created as a result of congressional underfunding of Pell Grants. Pell Grants are a very valuable part of America's educational system in helping low-income people receive post-secondary educations. Congress created a serious fiscal problem in 2002 when they underfunded the program by some $1.3 billion. And so the administration is continuing to work with the Hill, to work on solutions to how the shortfall can be addressed.
It might be helpful if some of the specific earmarks that the Congress passed that involve such things as the Mind and Body Mental Institute, training programs to combat Goth culture -- some of the earmarks that Congress passed that took money away from vital education programs could be addressed. Education is a top priority for this President, and he will remain committed to it. But there is a shortfall in the funding formula as a result of congressional action.
Q Can I also follow up? Democrats are saying that the administration is underfunding grant programs, other loan programs, and they're blaming the tax cut, the $1.35 trillion tax cut is taking money away from programs that could help deal with the cost.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think the case is more that the earmarks that Congress continues to pass take money away from vital programs. The tax bill actually created more money for education. The tax bill enlarged the amount of money available for education savings accounts. And, of course, by doubling the child credit from $500 to $1,000, it gives parents more money to use on the education of their children.
But just to be clear, the core of the issue on the substantive level, was that congress mandated a Pell Grant maximum award of $4,000, but it provided only enough funding in what Congress itself passed, for a maximum grant of $3,600, which created a shortfall of $1.3 billion. So Congress created the very problem, by creating a maximum award in excess of what they themselves funded.
Q So what -- is the fixed versus variable rate no longer an option?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're just going to continue to work with the Congress to find a solution. That idea was always a voluntary one, never a mandatory one. But clearly, if there is no congressional support for something, it won't move anywhere.
Q When is the deadline to find this coming together on this matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the -- I don't know that there's any hard and fast deadline, April. Sometimes it doesn't always work that way. I mean, Congress created the funding mechanisms for it, and those are the law of the land. The President would like to get it fixed, rather than have a short-fall.
Q EU meeting tomorrow -- is there a Middle East portion on the agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't looked at great detail at the agenda yet. Most of these meetings do focus more on matters directly between the European Union and its member nations, and the United States. I can't rule out, of course, that the Middle East will come up. But typically last year's EU meetings, for example, the focus was much more on the direct U.S.-Europe issues. But I'll let you know tomorrow.
Q What about the issue of trade?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think most of the issues that are going to come up will be trade, economies, NATO perhaps in passing -- we'll see. Obviously, it's a separate body from NATO. But I think most of the meeting is going to be focused on trade and economic matters between the EU and the United States.
END 1:09 P.M. EDT
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