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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, February 18, 2004 (Full Transcript)QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 creation numbers.
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.
QUESTION: 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 --
QUESTION: 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 --
QUESTION: So you don't know, or it was, or it wasn't?
MR. McCLELLAN: Can I get -- can I finish that sentence?
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: -- 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 --
QUESTION: Just say yes or no --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- it goes through the normal -- it goes through the normal vetting process.
QUESTION: So the answer is, yes. I'm not done yet, I've got another one.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 --
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: No, you have not answered. And everybody watching knows you haven't answered.
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree.
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