print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 15, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: Do the President's speeches on taxes and the economy today and tomorrow suggest that he feels it's time to shift his gaze a little bit in hopes of avoiding what might have happened to his father in 1991?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me remind you that while there's no question that for the last month or so the focus has been very strongly on events in Iraq, given the fact that we have been in the middle of war, even during this time the President had a series of meetings on the economy. You were there. You've talked to many of the people who participated in the meeting that the President had with his National Economic Council, with other leaders who came to the White House, business leaders, et cetera.

But go back to the beginning of the year and how the President began the year, which was on January 7th, when the President traveled to Chicago to announce his economic growth package. Ever since January 7th, this President has been steady and strong in working to enact the growth package. And he will continue to do that with the United States Congress. We've had various levels of success with Congress on it. The President will continue to help to persuade the Congress to pass a jobs and growth program.

So this is a continuation of something that the President began very strongly at the beginning of the year, had, oh, some dozen, 15 meetings already so far this year focused exclusively on the growth package. Clearly, there was a period of time where the war was the number one issue that was all that people could, at least, visibly see. But even in that time, I think you're familiar, the President had leaders of the Congress down at the White House: the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, congressional leadership met with him. And he made numerous phone calls throughout this period of time, as well. But it is -- no question, it is important.

QUESTION: Is he using the capital generated by the successful prosecution of the war to advance his case here?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think no matter what the outcome of war, the President would be doing this. And so those will be judgments that other people will make about whether the President has capital, how much capital does he have, what influence it has on members of Congress. I think that's the beginning of a story. We're not even at the middle of that story yet. And the Congress is now on a two-week recess. When they return, they will begin their process of working diligently on the tax bill itself, which is really what this becomes a key issue about. And I think you'll see continued activities, and maybe even increased activities by the President as this moves along.

QUESTION: The President called today for at least $550 billion in tax relief. That's down from $760 billion, but --

MR. FLEISCHER: $726 billion.

QUESTION: $726 billion, thank you. Still a lot of money. Now that basically military operations, combat operations have ceased in Iraq, and we have a sense of the scale of the destruction and reconstruction that would be necessary, can the White House, can the President tell the American people how much more money beyond the supplement will be required for the American taxpayer to pay in Iraq? Or is the President asking the Congress and the American people to support this half-a-trillion-dollar flying fiscally blind?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's not asking flying fiscally blind. He's asking Congress to pass it flying fiscally responsibly knowing that the economy and growth in the economy is, in good part, dependent on what we do with the tax cut because you can give a boost to the economy, create more jobs. That's what the President has proposed. That's what he's focused on.

As for the budget, number one, I think it still is too early to make any real assessments on the ground about all reconstruction costs. But given the way the timing works with the congressional cycle, there is sufficient time for Congress, as they now have the orderly hearings and the appropriation bills for the fiscal year that won't be begin until the October of 2003 to take into consideration for the '04 budget if there are any additional costs that need to be incurred.

QUESTION: But I'm just trying to fit the pieces together. You have at least a half- a-trillion tax cut. And you're saying we have an unknown multi-billion- dollar commitment that we are going to make to Iraq. And the White House at present can't tell the Congress, the American people how much that piece is going to be before fitting in the half-trillion-dollar tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's an interesting notion that because we don't know what all the costs are of Iraq, business here in the United States for the American people should no longer go on? By that logic, it would suggest we have an unknown in Iraq, so therefore we should not proceed on any domestic issues. We should not proceed on funding schools.

QUESTION: That's not what I said. I'm asking about responsible budgeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you're calling it not responsible, I think that's subjective. The fact of the matter, as the President said today in the Rose Garden, what's important is not to have a focus on an arbitrary number, but to focus on the fact that the American people need jobs because the economy is growing slower than he otherwise would like and, therefore, we need to give a boost, an impetus to the economy. That's the definition of responsibility, is to worry about the needs of the American people first.


QUESTION: Ari, on the tax cut, you're talking about political capital, Senator Breaux -- who, as you know, is very important to getting anything passed on this issue in the Senate -- made clear today in talking to reporters that he doesn't believe that the capital extends that far, that it's just not going to happen beyond $350 billion. Senator Snowe, also, had talked -- people seem to be very moved by the idea of getting more than a $350 billion tax cut. How are you going to move more than $550 billion when you've got people in your own party who don't want more than $350 billion?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that there is a good fight ahead when it comes to how to provide growth for the economy, and the President's going to engage in it. The President believes very strongly that we need, as a government, to concern ourselves with the needs of the unemployed, people who are looking for work, with Americans who want economy to grow and grow faster than it is. And he's on their side.

And that's what he will continue to do as he pushes for a tax relief package of sufficient size so that the economy can get a boost, can get a stimulus that creates jobs. And make no mistake about it, while there are some who say that the size of the tax cut should be diminished, they claim, so that the deficit can be reduced, they have every intention of using that money to increase government spending.

And all you need to do is look at the amendments that were offered in the debate in the Senate about the budget resolution. It was one amendment, after another amendment, after another amendment about how to reach into the taxpayer wallets and spend more of their money. It wasn't how to save the size of the tax cut. So that, too, guides the President. It is a false debate to say that if the taxes aren't cut, the money will be saved. We all know how it works in Washington. That money will be spent on more government programs.

QUESTION: To follow-up on that, the two Republican Senators -- Voinovich and Snowe -- the reason for not supporting, they say, this larger tax cut, is expressly for the deficit -- because of the deficit. You're saying that they will, in turn, take the money and spend it?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm referring to many of the amendments that were offered in the budget resolution process. And many of those amendments, when you look at them, were offered by the loyal opposition. And they dealt with all kinds of -- scores of amendments on spending increases for many different causes. And the pressure is always on in the Congress to spend more, not to save it. And so that's something else that guides the President.


QUESTION: Ari, a couple things on the tax cut package. The President said this morning a couple of times, a couple different ways, that a lot of the benefits would be felt before -- within the next two years, which obviously takes us through the next election. You've made clear here that for the last month or so his focus -- his primary focus has been on Iraq. As he moves forward, pivots to a domestic agenda, is it fair to say that the economy is the number one concern of the President going forward over these next few months?

And, secondly, if we end up in the situation where we have a figure much closer to the Senate number than the $550 billion he talked about today or the $726 billion passed by the House, can that be considered a victory for him?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, if you go back to what the President said in the State of the Union, he outlined two broad goals for the year; they remain his broad goals for the year. One was economic security at home and the other was national security, because of events abroad. And the President makes no delineation of one over the other. They are both essential to the American people, so they are essential to him.

On the numbers. As the President said today, this is not about an arbitrary number. This is about analyzing the economy and what the economy needs to get it growing faster. And that's his focus.

QUESTION: He's made clear what he thinks it needs, and he's made clear a range of numbers that he wants to see. So the question is, if it's less than that, will he consider that a victory?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will consider getting growth for the American people a victory -- and he's not focused on an artificial number or arbitrary number, he's focused on providing the biggest impetus we can for an economy that needs to grow more. That's what this all comes down to. The economy is growing, it's recovered from the recession of 2001. It needs to grow faster, in the President's judgment, to create more jobs. There are still mixed signals in the economy. On some day you see some signs of some mild growth. On other days you see some signs like today, industrial production is down .5. You see signs of failure for the economy to grow.

Given the reality of the economy today, of course this President is going to fight for the greatest growth package, jobs package possible.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that? There are, as you say, mixed signals. In fact, there was a report last week, a survey of corporate leaders, big companies, guys who have a position that make an impact on the economy. And they're pretty gloomy about it. Is the President -- most of them expect their payrolls to shrink, most of them expect not to be buying new equipment, building new factories, whatever. Is the President -- does he agree with their perception, and is he getting frustrated that there continues to be this sense in the business community --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, they're mixed. He's getting mixed signals when he has conversations with the business community. I'll take on the macro and micro level. There are also reports out now suggesting that consumer sentiment is way up. A portion of this is now the after effect of war in Iraq. Consumer sentiment was way down, in part in anticipation of a potential war. Now it's flipped. That's a good sign, on a macro point of view on the economy. Sector by sector, you're going to find strengths, you're going to find weaknesses. State by state, you'll find unemployment is higher or lower in different states.

But today in the roundtable the President had with a group of small business leaders, there was one woman who owns a milling machine that makes a metal product. And she told the President that there's a product that she wanted to buy that costs some $240,000. And she said, that's a big chunk 'o change for my company, we're a small company -- but if I can buy it, and as a result of one of the changes that you proposed, she told the President, for a small business expensing, she said she would now be able to buy it, because she could afford it. She would have higher productivity, and could hire more workers, and sell more goods.

That's exactly what you want federal policy to impact. That's the exact type of micro message you want people to take from a change in federal taxation policy, because it does what she said. It would encourage growth, encourage job creation.