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A United States Marine and her son stand for pictures with Chuckie, a character from the cartoon, "Rugrats," during the White House Easter Egg Roll Monday, April 21, 2003. More than 30 children's characters wandered through the South Lawn during the day's festivities, including Clifford the Big Red Dog, Winnie the Pooh and the Berenstain Bears.
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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003
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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 23, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: On another subject, is it the President's view now that enough has been achieved in Iraq that he can shift his focus, his attention, his public schedule to the economy and domestic concerns?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, even with what was happening in Iraq -- which, clearly, was a presidential priority -- much did happen on the domestic front. So I think it's -- may be worth somewhat of a review about what has taken place.

Here is what has been passed by the Congress and will shortly sent to the President for signature: the emergency wartime supplemental appropriation bill is heading this way, the President will sign it Wednesday morning. The children's protection safety act, which includes the National Amber Alert System, is also coming to the White House for signature -- which is a helpful way of protecting families and children. The smallpox compensation legislation, which is part of Homeland Security, has been passed by the Congress and will be signed. And in an hour we'll measure the tax relief for members of the armed services has been passed and will be signed.

During the last seven weeks, which, interestingly, is the longest period of time that Congress is in Washington in the entire year without a recess, Congress passed the following: the House passed on ban on human cloning; the House passed bankruptcy reform; the House passed medical liability reform, which was a presidential priority; the House, earlier in February, passed welfare reform; and the House also just recently passed comprehensive energy legislation, including opening up the Alaska -- the ANWR facility for exploration.

The Senate has taken action and passed a ban on partial birth abortion and the CARE act, the faith-based legislation with the charitable provisions.

So there has been a lot of activity in the Congress on these measures. And, of course, the Congress just passed a budget resolution, which is the necessary first step to getting the tax relief done. In fact, this is the first time -- or this is only like, really, the sixth time in the last 28 years that the budget resolution was passed prior to its April 15th statutory deadline.

So it still is early in the congressional cycle. A lot of action has taken place. The President has made a lot of phone calls. There have been meetings here, many of which you know about but, of course, didn't receive the attention they typically would if much of the public focus was on the domestic agenda. So, yes, there is a lot of work both on the international front and the domestic front. The President is committed to doing both.

QUESTION: Just real quick -- I mean, this is the first week he's gone out, done a big speech on the economy. There are plans to do another speech on the way to Crawford. I mean, we are seeing a change from what we've seen for the last several weeks, over the course of the war. It seems like now, in terms of his public schedule, he's talking more about the economy. Is that what we are to expect in the weeks ahead? That he's done enough with Iraq, that he can focus his public attention --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think in terms of the President's mind set he is still very strongly focused on what is happening in Iraq. Congress is gone, and gone for two weeks. There are going to be a wide number of appearances by administration officials throughout the states over the next two weeks --

Cabinet and sub-Cabinet level. And the President, of course, is going to be speaking out tomorrow on the domestic economy because it's tax day, and the American people are over-taxed. And the President also believes one of the best ways to create jobs in the economy is to continue to stimulate the economy. The President will also have remarks on Wednesday on his way to Crawford, in St. Louis.

So, yes, the President will increasingly speak out. But I do want to also advise you, we still are in a phase where the President is very much focused on what is happening on the ground, so long as we have American men and women who remain in a combat zone.


QUESTION: Ari, since we talked last there appears to be a pretty firm deal in the Senate not to allow tax cuts higher than $350 billion. Does the White House still believe that that deal can be undone?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it remains to be seen what the exact nature of what the senators have agreed to is. There's some dispute among senators about it, themselves. From the President's point of view, what's most important is that we create the greatest number of jobs for the American people. Clearly, a tax bill that has only $350 billion worth of tax relief in it will not create as many jobs as a tax bill that has $550 billion or higher for the American people.

The President's focus is on jobs, and it will remain on jobs and the creation of jobs through an economic growth package. And the higher the tax number -- even in excess of $550 billion -- the more jobs will be created. And that's what the President is going to fight for.

QUESTION: Specifically, do you still think you can change the views of the Snowe and Voinovich, who have vowed that they will not support --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I never make any predictions. But the leadership of the Senate is important at times like this. All individual senators have a voice, and we will continue to work the process. The House has a voice, and it's important for the voice in the House to be heard, as well.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more? Does the President believe that Republicans have any kind of special obligation to support the President on domestic initiatives like this during wartime?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President recognizes that members of Congress have a right to vote their conscience, speak their mind, and act accordingly.


QUESTION: Ari, to go back to the budget -- I mean, obviously, you're not really accepting the $350 billion --


QUESTION: -- as a done deal. Presumably, that's because you believe that's too low a figure to help the economy. Could you spell out the scenario of just why that's not enough?

MR. FLEISCHER: If you take a look at the economy today and compare it to the economy at the time the President announced the jobs program, which was at the level of $726 billion, we have not yet seen sufficient improvement in the economy that suggests it is time to shrink the size of the tax cut, or shrink the number of jobs created for the American people because the economy's present condition demands congressional action. It demands action like the President recommended, not less action.

If the economy had dramatically improved to the point where fewer jobs need to be created, or less action was called for, that might be one thing. The economy has not gotten to that point. So from an economic, job-creating point of view, stepping backward from the President's proposal for jobs and growth is the exact wrong remedy for people who seek work.

QUESTION: So based on that, if Congress stays with $350 billion, they'll be responsible for keeping the economy from recovering?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is a collaborative process, let's wait and see what the ultimate outcome is. We are fortunate in that Congress is moving earlier than usual. As I mentioned, it's only the sixth time in 28 years that Congress has completed its budget resolution as early as it did. Now comes the harder part, the tax-writing phase of this. And that's where the real aid is delivered to people who are looking for work and for economic growth.

I remind you that in all the private sector forecasts about growth this year, they have all baked into their cake the assumption that Congress will pass a sizable amount of tax relief. Failure to get it done at a sizable level will mean less growth, less jobs.


QUESTION: Ari, in his State of the Union address, the President said that he would not pass current problems on to future Congresses and future generations. There are an awful lot of independent analysts, budgetary analysts, out there who say that any kind of tax cut package like he's proposed would do just that, in terms of federal deficits; and that the deficits generated by this plan would far outweigh any economic growth that we've got, particularly now given the war in Iraq and the costs associated with that. Does the President believe that if the Congress passes a package like his, there won't be long-term financial consequences for future Congresses?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there are two schools of thought when it comes to this type of issue, about deficits and growth. And the President is squarely on the side of the growth school. There are some who believe that the best way to eliminate deficits is to, one, raise taxes, which the President will never subscribe to. There are others who still subscribe to the raised tax school. And there are others who believe that tax cuts should not be passed if you have a deficit because you have a deficit.

The President believes that the best way to create growth and to create jobs and, therefore, reduce the deficit, is through tax cuts, tax-cutting policies, particularly the 100 percent exclusion on dividends and also the other accelerations of the tax cuts that the President has sought. And that's the side of the debate that he comes down on.

Of course, there are others who disagree with the President on that. Some of them happen to be economists. The President has many economists who think what he is doing is the right thing to do. You've met with them, many of you, yourselves. He's met with many of them here at the White House and we made them available to you.

QUESTION: So he doesn't agree with all these forecasts that say, yes, there will be growth created by this, but not enough to offset the deficits?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, clearly, as I just indicated. If you take a look at the blue chip estimates, which is probably some of the biggest collection of private sector economists from all stripes, they have baked into their predictions for economic growth the fact that Congress will pass an economic growth package.

QUESTION: Some version --

MR. FLEISCHER: Some version, correct. Some version of it. And if you take that --


MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. And if you take that out, they are predicting less growth. And as we all know, if there's less growth, there are fewer jobs. And the President is focused on jobs for the American people. And one of the worst things you can do for next generations, if you want to talk about what you'll leave a next generation, is to leave fathers who are unemployed for their families. The President's focus -- or mothers who are unemployed -- and the President's focus is on making sure we have jobs in our economy.

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