For Immediate Release
February 18, 2004
Press Briefing Excerpts - 2/18/04
Q Scott, does the White House stand behind its report issued just nine
days ago, the Economic Report, there will be 2.6 million new jobs
created this year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we went through a little bit of this earlier
today. I think that people can debate the numbers all they want; the
President is focused on acting on policies to create as robust an
environment for job creation as possible so that we can help those who
are hurting because they are looking for work and cannot find a job.
The President is encouraged by the direction the economy is moving.
It is growing strong -- or growing stronger, I should say -- it is
strong and growing stronger. There have been more than 366,000 new jobs
created in the last five months. The unemployment rate continues to
decline. It is now the lowest point -- at the lowest point it has been
in two years, and it is below the average of the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
Certainly, productivity continues to be high, and people's disposable
incomes are up. There are a lot of good indications about the direction
the economy is moving.
But there is more to do. And the President is focused on acting to
create as robust an environment as possible. That means acting on his
six-point plan for strengthening our economy even more. We live in a
changing economy right now, John, and the President has put forward a
plan that will help create as robust an environment for job creation as
possible. It will help retrain workers who have lost their jobs to meet
the jobs of the 21st century -- these jobs that are high-paid,
high-skill jobs. And so that's where the President's focus is on.
Q Well, you say this is a changing economy, and you also said
earlier that this report was based on economic data that is now three
months old. So would it be wrong for the Democrats, later this year --
if you don't meet this 2.6 million forecast of jobs -- would it be
wrong for them to beat you on the head about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: It would be wrong for people to raise taxes at this
point in our economy. And there are some -- (laughter) -- well, there
are some that are advocating letting the tax cuts that the President
worked to pass expire. And what that would be doing is raising taxes on
small businesses. Small businesses are the economic engine for our
economy and they're at the foundation of creating a strong and growing
economy. It would raise taxes, if they let these tax cuts expire, on
moms and dads who are trying to raise a family. It would raise taxes on
married couples by restoring the marriage penalty.
Q When you dismissed the premise of John's question by saying,
people can debate the numbers, let's be realistic here, the debate is
going on between your Council of Economic Advisors and Treasury
Secretary John Snow. Are there people here in this White House who
never believed that forecast?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, John, I think that the Council of Economic
Advisors puts out an annual report on the economy; it's the President's
Economic Report. And they do that every year. They've been doing it for
some 20 years now. That's based on economic modeling and the data that
is available at that point in time. The President is interested in the
actual number of jobs being created, and the President is interested in
making sure that everybody who is looking for a job can find one.
That's where the President's focus is.
That's why I say people can debate the numbers all they want, but
the President is going to be looking at the actual numbers of jobs
being created. And the number of jobs being created is growing. The
number is up. New jobs are being created. The economy is certainly
moving in the right direction. And my point to John was that the last
thing we need to do right now is raise taxes. And we need to focus on
the policy decisions that are being made here in Washington, D.C. to
create as robust an environment for job creation as possible. And
that's where the debate ought to be focused.
Q But it would appear, though, that people very high up in this
administration didn't have a whole lot of faith in the forecast of the
report that went up to Congress just a week ago in terms of the job
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it's an annual economic report that is put
out by the administration based on the economic modeling and the data
that's available at that point in time.
Q Can you answer the specific question, though? Was this report --
was the prediction of this many jobs, 2.6 million jobs, vetted prior to
publication by the entire economic team?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual report, David. It goes through the
usual -- it goes through the usual --
Q That's not the question. Was it or was it not vetted by the
entire economic team?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual report. It goes through the usual --
Q So you don't know, or it was, or it wasn't?
MR. McCLELLAN: Can I get -- can I finish that sentence?
Q When you answer the question. Let's hear it. What's the answer?
MR. McCLELLAN: The answer was, it is an annual economic report and
it goes through the normal vetting process. And if you would let me get
to that, I would answer your question.
Q -- the full economic team vetted the prediction --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual economic report. It's the President's
Economic Report. But again, the President --
Q Just say yes or no --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- it goes through the normal -- it goes through the
normal vetting process.
Q So the answer is, yes. I'm not done yet, I've got another one.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q Why -- if you're suggesting that people will debate the numbers,
that's kind of a backhanded way to say, oh, who cares about the
numbers. Well, apparently, the President's top economic advisors do,
because that's why they wrote a very large report and sent it to
Congress. So why was the prediction made in the first place, if the
President and you and his Treasury Secretary were going to just back
away from it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I disagree with the premise of the way
you stated that. This is the annual Economic Report of the President
and the economic modeling is done this way every year. It's been done
this way for 20-some years.
Q So why not -- why aren't you standing behind it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what the President stands behind is the
policies that he is implementing, the policies that he is advocating.
That's what's important.
Q That's not in dispute. The number is the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but the President's concern is on the number
of jobs being created --
Q My question is, why was the prediction made --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the President's focus is on making sure that
people who are hurting because they cannot find work have a job. That's
where the President's focus is.
Q Then why predict a number? Why was the number predicted? Why was
the number predicted? You can't get away with not -- just answer the
question. Why was that number predicted?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've been asked this, and I've asked -- I've been
asked, and I've answered.
Q No, you have not answered. And everybody watching knows you
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree.