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
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
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
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 --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
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
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
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 --
QUESTION: 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.