The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 8, 2004

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

President's Remarks


12:20 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to begin with, so I will go straight to your questions.

Q Welcome back.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, good to be back.

Let's start up here. Go ahead, Terry.

Q Do you have anything on Arafat's condition, any update? What do you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. We're continuing to monitor the situation.

We've been in discussions with European friends about it, and we remain in close consultation with them -- but there's nothing to update you on.

Go ahead, John.

Q How closely involved is the President in the Fallujah offensive, in terms of -- obviously, he's getting briefings all the time, but in terms of his involvement, what decisions did he have to make --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's the Commander-in-Chief and he had a

National Security Council meeting on Friday, where he met via secure videoconference with his national security team to talk about Iraq and to talk about the situation in Fallujah. It was a lengthy National Security Council meeting. He met with his Secretary of Defense earlier today, and continued to talk about Iraq. And so he is very involved in these discussions. It is very much a two-way discussion between the United States and our forces and the interim government in Iraq about addressing these situations.

Q Would he hope that if this is successful, that other countries which have been reluctant to get involved in Iraq might come to the forefront now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the European Union pledged some important commitments just last week to support the efforts towards free elections in Iraq. Our troops are partnering closely with Iraqi forces to bring about a secure environment for elections to take place throughout Iraq in January. The terrorists and insurgents will be defeated. They seek to derail the transition to free and fair elections for the Iraqi people, but they will not prevail. The hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people will be realized. And we're there to work closely with the interim government and the Iraqi forces to make sure that that happens.

Q Scott, what is your response to the European foreign policy chiefs' assessment that there's little prospect for national elections in Iraq in January because of the deteriorating security situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, I disagree. If you look at what the

United Nations election official said just last week, they talked about the efforts already underway to register people in Iraq. And they talked about the thousands of registration clerks that are in place, and the sites that are in place for people to go and register in Iraq. So people are already registering for elections in Iraq, and we have continued to work closely with the Iraqi forces to address the ongoing security challenges.

Prime Minister Allawi made it very clear that he was reaching out to people who wanted to participate in the political process. Unfortunately, there remain some terrorists and insurgents who do not want a political solution. They seek to spread fear and chaos and destruction. And the only solution to deal with them is to go on the offensive and bring them to justice. That's what the Iraqi forces are doing, and we're there to partner with them in that effort.

This is a time -- I think that Prime Minister Allawi recognizes this is a time to address the ongoing security challenges. We've made progress in areas like Najaf and Samarra and other areas, and now you see the terrorists and insurgents in Fallujah have rejected a political solution.

Go ahead, Dick.

Q Did the President give his personal go-ahead for the offensive in Fallujah on Friday, or at some other --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's the Commander-in-Chief, so I think -- one, the decision in Iraq is made by the interim government. But it's made in close consultation with our troops, and our forces. Our commanders are in close, constant contact with the Iraq, with Iraqi forces, as is our government. And I think that's the way you should look at it. But as I said, it's a two-way discussion between our forces and between the forces of the interim government.

Q But on his side of the discussion, was there a moment at which he was asked to give a go-ahead for this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's very well aware of the decisions that are being made in Iraq. And they are made in close consultation with the interim government. And he's very involved in that process, as I pointed out. That's why he had the National Security Council meeting on Friday.

Q Isn't this a yes-or-no -- I mean, there's no veto power over U.S. forces, we know that --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q -- even though there's an interim government. So doesn't he necessarily have to sign-off before an operation goes forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's the Commander-in-Chief of our troops, and he looks to the commanders on the ground to make the decisions about how to go about military operations. He does not try to micro-manage that process. But as Prime Minister Allawi outlined, there's an integrated political and military strategy that is in place to address the ongoing security challenges as Iraq moves toward free elections. And we consult closely with the interim government on those matters, and we're there to help the Iraqi forces address these security challenges, and that's what we're doing.

Q Can you say "yes" or "no" whether in this particular case he said, move forward, go ahead?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's the Commander-in-Chief, so obviously he is --

Q I should take that as a "yes"?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I don't know how you want to describe it, but, obviously, he is involved in signing off on these matters.

Q Can I just -- another question on a different topic, on gay marriage. Karl Rove said yesterday that, absolutely, the President would push for this ban, this constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Obviously, the President talked a good deal about this in the campaign. This is not -- this was unsuccessful going through Congress the first time around. Can you give us some insight into his thinking about how maybe he recalibrates the strategy to get this through now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you look back over history, I think any time there is a constitutional amendment, it typically takes some time to get through the process. The President remains committed to doing everything he can to protect the sanctity of marriage. He believes very strongly that it is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.

With that said, the President, during the campaign, outlined a very comprehensive agenda focused on big priorities. There are a number of priorities that we are going to be pursuing in the second term. There's also some short-term priorities that we'll be pursuing. Congress is coming back into session next week, and this Congress has some remaining work to do. Specifically, they need to address the ongoing appropriations process. There are four of 13 appropriations bills that have been passed at this point. So we continue to have discussions with members about getting the remaining bills passed.

We also are working with Congress to pass intelligence reform legislation that will create a strong national intelligence director. And so those are some immediate, short-term priorities. And then there's a second term agenda priorities, which the President remains firmly committed to. I don't think anyone should be surprised that just because the election is over, the President is pursuing exactly what he talked about on the campaign trail.

Q The question is, what's he going to do differently now? I mean, you say it takes time to get through the process, but is he going to actively campaign for this? Is it a back-burner issue? What does he do differently?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a priority. He'll continue to talk to members of Congress about it. You have new members coming into Congress, as well. He's already reached out to some of those, on both sides of the aisle. And he'll continue to do that on priorities --

Q On this issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm talking more broadly, not specifically this issue.

Q May I follow up on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q And I have two religious questions, on gay marriage and other issues that are very important to the right wing. And I'm looking at this Washington Post article today about Evangelicals said they led the charge. Will you bring the Evangelical community more directly now involved? Will you have regular meetings with them, since they were so instrumental in the re-election?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you define necessarily as that community, but the President reaches out to all Americans to get his agenda accomplished. And as you heard last week in his statement after Senator Kerry had called him, as well as in his news conference, he said he would continue to reach out to others to focus on our common priorities and get things done. This President is someone who is committed to getting things done. He's not here just to hold the office. He's focused on big priorities and really helping make things better for the American people.

Q Does the President have weekly meetings with the leadership of the religious right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we keep you posted on his meetings, and so we will continue to do that. But, certainly, in terms of reaching out to people of faith, this President has reached out to people of faith. He believes that we ought to welcome people of faith into the political process, and he meets regularly with religious leaders from across the spectrum. And he has done that, he will continue to do that.

Q In the Muslim community, since he's having the meeting this week, do you have any particular message for the Muslim community?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we -- in terms of which meeting?

Q The Iftaar dinner.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, the Iftaar dinner, yes. Yes, I think we put out a statement on that, and maybe we'll have more on that when that happens, too.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, on Fallujah, what is the measure of success there? How do you know when the effort has been successful? Is there a goal, is there a list of names of insurgent leaders? Is there a number that you're looking to get of insurgents rounded up? What is the measure of success --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we've brought about -- when we've brought about a secure environment in Fallujah, just like we have in other parts of Iraq. It's -- the Iraqi government is the one, as I said, who is making the decision about how to address these matters, in close consultation with the multinational forces. The terrorists and insurgents rejected a political solution, and now Prime Minister Allawi has made the decision to move forward, institute additional safety measures, and to bring to justice those terrorists and insurgents who continue to spread violence and fear.

Go ahead.

Q But how do you know they're not just sort of slipping away, if they haven't already?

MR. McCLELLAN: When we have a stable environment there, and when Iraq is able to move forward on free elections, which we fully expect will happen in January.

Go ahead.

Q You talk about the longer term issues, and really the second term issues, which would be basically tax reform and Social Security reform. What specific plans does --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are some education initiatives we want to build on, as well. There are some health care efforts, too --

Q Particularly those which the President talked about at his press conference. And the question is, what steps is he taking right now in terms of whether you're setting up commissions, or what kind of steps he is going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: On tax reform, he committed to putting in place a bipartisan advisory panel by the end of the year, and then that panel would be charged with moving forward on a recommendation to the Treasury Secretary that would make the tax code simpler and fairer. I think the President has long been committed to making the code simpler and fairer, and that was a philosophical difference that was discussed in the campaign. And he intends to move forward quickly and deliberately on all these priorities that he outlined.

In terms of Social Security, the President made it a top priority this campaign. It is something we have discussed for quite some time. And you heard him last week, he said we would start now on moving forward on that. So the White House is already working. We'll be reaching out to members of Congress, as well, to move forward on those efforts. But there are a number of priorities that we're moving forward on -- some that can move quicker than others. Medical liability reform is something that was discussed throughout this campaign, and that's something the President believes we ought to move on quickly for the reasons he stated during the campaign.

Q But aren't tax reform and Social Security where he'd could be finding the major hurdles?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are certainly some issues that will be discussed very closely with Congress, and we'll work very closely with members as we move forward on those. And we'll keep you apprised of developments, as we do. But, again, the immediate, short-term focus right now is on Congress coming back into session, and getting the appropriation bills finalized, making sure that we show spending restraint -- the President made that very clear last week, that we need to continue to show spending restraint, and moving forward on intelligence reform.

Q Does the President feel that the size of the vote gives him the support from the American public that he needs to implement Social Security reform, given the costs up front, and his desire to show spending restraint? In other words, the somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion up-front cost of privatizing a portion of Social Security, does he feel that the American public said to him, in the vote, go ahead, spend the money, because of what could be down the line?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I mean, I don't know how you can make a specific estimate, because the President hasn't endorsed a specific plan. He's talked about the principles which will guide him in Social Security reform. We know that if we don't act, the costs will far outweigh if we do act; that the cost is estimated to be some $10 trillion if we do nothing. And so the cost you're talking about is far less than that. And we need to save and strengthen Social Security, otherwise it is headed towards bankruptcy. We need to strengthen it for future generations so that they can build a nest egg of their own, so that they have it there for their retirement.

And the President remains firmly committed to it. It was something that was debated and discussed at length during the campaign. The American people spoke very clearly that they support the President's agenda, and that includes the President's views on allowing younger workers to invest a small portion of their Social Security funds in personal retirement accounts. And we will move forward on it, working closely with Congress.

Q Scott, first of all, congratulations to the President.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Q India Globe (inaudible) has always supported on his stand on fighting this terrorism. I hope he will continue. And, also, happy birthday to the First Lady.

My question is, as far as this election is concerned, Scott, most of the Muslims and Arabs in this country and around the globe, they were united against the President. And somehow, now, how and what President going to do to bring these (inaudible) together, because they have to live here, and we have to be here. So what's the President -- how he is going to reach them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President talked about how he's going to continue to reach out to our friends and allies across the world, and focus on areas where we can work together to address our common challenges. He spoke at length in his press conference about the need to continue to work together as we wage and win the global war on terrorism. He talked about the need to work together to combat AIDS in the world. He talked about the need to work together to alleviate poverty and other disease, as well. He will continue to reach out to our friends and allies.

Q Does he feel a kind of anger or anything against those people who --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President is someone who is forward-looking, and he's looking at ways we can work together on areas of common challenge. And, you know, he's having a meeting later this week with Prime Minister Blair, he looks forward to him coming back to the White House so that they can discuss a number of these priorities and ways that we can work together with our European friends, as well.

Go ahead, Deb.

Q One of your predecessors, Mike McCurry, suggested that the President needs to reach out especially to Senator Kerry, and sort of treat him as the leader of the Democratic Party. As we go into the upcoming congressional short session, would the President be doing any special outreach, or would he be regarding Senator Kerry in any way as part of the congressional leadership, or simply one of the leaders --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to continue to reach out across partisan lines. He and Senator Kerry had a very good conversation last Wednesday morning, and they talked about the importance of working together. And so I think you can expect the President will reach out to all those who want to work together to accomplish our shared priorities.

Q Would he regard Senator Kerry as, in effect -- particularly with Senator Daschle -- as the leader of the Democratic Party --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand. I think the Senate Democrats will determine who their leader is, going forward. And the President looks forward to sitting down with those leaders and talking about how we can move together on the priorities for the American people, and how we can work together to bridge our differences.

Q Scott, is the administration satisfied with the level of U.N. help and involvement in getting these elections going in Iraq? They don't seem to have a very large contingent of people there.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the U.N. is involved, and we believe that they should remain involved. And I pointed out earlier in this briefing how the U.N. election officials last week briefed about the progress that is being made to register voters in Iraq. They're already moving forward on those efforts. You also have countries that have stepped forward to say that they're going to extend their troop deployments and provide some help to provide for the security of U.N. workers. We would like to see the United Nations continue to be involved and take a greater role.

Q Is there any indication that they're going to increase the number of people involved --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the latest update, Richard, but we stay in close contact with them on those matters. You might check -- you might check with the United States Mission at the U.N.

Q Scott -- and I would add, congratulations.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Q A two-part question. At the President's news conference when The Washington Times informed him of the story that AP later had to retract about Arafat's death, the President said, "God bless his soul." And my question, did the President mean to say God cleanse his soul, or is the President a universalist in believing that everybody goes to heaven?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you know what the President meant by his remarks. I don't think --

Q No, I don't know -- that's why I'm asking you.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I need to elaborate.

Q Is he a universalist?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I need to elaborate. The President addressed that last week.

Q On talk radio, which with the Internet countered so much of old big media's attempt to drive you and the President out of the White House, there have been a number of callers who have wondered why the front row reserved seat at presidential news conferences for Helen Thomas, she has been moved to the rear. And my question, knowing that you and the President both try to be fair, could you tell us what Helen ever did that was as bad as the network that used forged documents to try to malign the President and whose reserved seat has not been moved?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. You connected a lot of things there. But I don't have anything against any of these people on the front row. (Laughter.)

Q No, no, no, no, I just am asking for a fair answer. Why was Helen moved back --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Gregory sometimes, but --

Q -- but not that network? Give us an answer.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen has been the longest serving White House correspondent here. And I think it's a nice tradition --

Q Why was she put back --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a nice tradition. I don't believe she has been --

Q She was in the press conference --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, she was here just the other day, sitting in that front row.

Q I know, here. But press conferences, I'm talking about.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, well --

Q Why was she moved back? (Laughter.) You want to evade that, don't you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Heidi.

Q Scott, the President talked a lot in the campaign about tax simplification. And as you mentioned, he talked about his principles for Social Security reform. What are his principles for tax simplification?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he laid them out when we announced that he was for reforming the tax code. He's long been someone who has been supported reforms -- who has supported reforms to our tax code, and getting rid of the death tax is a big step towards reforming the tax code and making it simpler and fairer. But he laid out the principles that the bipartisan panel needs to address: the principle, one, that the tax code should be simpler; two, that it should be fairer; and that it should promote economic growth and job creation. Those are the broad principles that he outlined when he announced that he would be appointing a bipartisan advisory panel to take this issue head-on.

Q But what does that mean, "simpler, fairer"?

MR. McCLELLAN: And that advisory panel will be coming back as soon as possible in 2005 to report to the Treasury Secretary. That's what they'll be charged with doing.

Q Scott, follow-up on that, please?

MR. McCLELLAN: Who is that yelling in the back? I'll come to you in a minute.

Q Yes, why is Mr. Blackwill leaving just before the elections in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: He had announced, I think, several weeks ago told Condi that he would be leaving, thought that this was a good time. We appreciate his outstanding service. And he will be missed.

Q But do you think it's good timing just before the election? Will there be anything before the elections or after?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- if you're in the White House, I don't know that there's ever a good time. He thought that this was an opportune time to go ahead and make that transition. And we greatly appreciate his outstanding service to the President. He has worked very hard on the issues relating to Iraq and he's done a great job for us.

Q Will he be replaced?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Rick. We'll keep you posted on any personnel announcements.

Q The President asked Mr. Card to stay on, and he's agreed to do so. Has the President asked anyone else to stay on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this gets into trying to get me to speculate about personnel matters. As I said earlier today, we'll make these announcements in due course. The President appreciates Secretary Card agreeing to remain as Chief of Staff. He is certainly someone who is doing and continues to do an outstanding job overseeing the team that the President has put in place. The President greatly appreciates the work of all those throughout the administration, the Cabinet, the staff members throughout the administration, the White House staff. He assembled a great team that has done really, really strong work to move forward on his agenda. And there will be plenty of speculation going on here over the next few weeks, and we will keep you posted on any changes that may come as we move forward to a second term.

I think you can look back over history, it's been a natural time for -- when you look at ways to build your team for the second term, and that's what we're in the process of doing.

Q He's asked you to stay on, hasn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I told you, I never speculate about personnel and, particularly, myself.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, you mentioned some --

MR. McCLELLAN: I was calling Sarah, here, I'll get to you guys.

Q Thank you. Scott, is the President now holding out an olive branch to France and Germany, and, if so, will he try to convince them to send troops to Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, as I pointed out last week, the European Union made some commitments to help support Iraq as they moved toward free elections. And we put out a statement on that, I believe it was on Friday. And so we certainly appreciate what the European Union agreed to do. And that would include the countries that you mentioned.

What we're focused on doing is building the Iraqi security forces, so that they can provide for their own security. And that's the -- that's what, ultimately, we need to do. As the President pointed out, we'll have 125,000 Iraqi forces trained and equipped by the elections, and then I believe another 200,000, if I recall correctly, by the end of next year. And so that's where our focus is. There are a number of countries that continue to provide troops to support those efforts, and we appreciate all those countries that are doing that. There are lots of ways countries can help as Iraq moves forward on free and fair elections.

Jeff, go ahead.

Q Thank you. With all the reaching out that's going on around here, the President said Thursday in his press conference that he was reaching out to the press corps. What did he mean by that, and why would he feel the need to reach out to a group of supposedly non-partisan people?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that was a tongue-in-cheek comment that the President made at the beginning of the press conference, and he was showing his outreach efforts by holding that press conference the day after the election was decided.

Q Has he decided to let bygones be bygones --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, you heard from the President -- you heard from the President in the news conference. The media certainly has an important role to play in keeping the American people informed about the decisions that we make here in Washington, D.C.

Q And despite the role that they tried to play, the President won anyhow. Is there some kind of rapprochement that's going on here?

MR. McCLELLAN: There will be plenty of analysis of the media and critiquing of the media, I'm sure, going forward. And I'll leave that to others to get into. The President has great respect for the job that the press does.

Q Is there a timetable to naming a National Intelligence Director? And is the current CIA --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's based on being passed by Congress.

Q And is Porter Goss under serious consideration for that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I wouldn't speculate on something that has yet to be created. The first step is to work with Congress and get that position created. The President is very much committed to getting intelligence reform done this year. He wants Congress to move forward as quickly as possible, and they'll be coming back next week to address that. But I'm not going to --

Q Is Porter Goss a candidate?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I'm not going to rule anybody in or out at this point. The position hasn't even been created at this point.

Q Does the administration have a preference on how that bill looks?

MR. McCLELLAN: We stated our preference in letters to Congress, that we've provided to you all, as well.

Q Scott, as the White House is monitoring Yasser Arafat's condition, is there any regret on the President's part that he didn't live up to what the President thought he should have done to be able to meet at the table with Sharon and the President when things were very volatile at the beginning of the first term?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I think that right now we continue to monitor the situation with Chairman Arafat. It's important that he gets the medical care that he needs. I don't think it's appropriate to get into much discussion beyond that at this point. Our views I think are pretty clear when it comes to the Middle East.

Q But was there at any point a time when Yasser Arafat could have come to the table with President Bush and Ariel Sharon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I don't think now is the appropriate time to get into that discussion.

Q Could you describe any consultations the President has had with

Prime Minister Tony Blair over the last few days regarding the assault on Fallujah?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's someone that he speaks to on a weekly basis. We don't get into necessarily reading out those discussions, but they'll be talking again this week, as well. But he spoke to Prime Minister Blair last week, so I can go back and give the exact dates when they last talked.

Q And now that the President has won this election, does he have any advice for Tony Blair in his upcoming campaign?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would say that Prime Minister Blair has been a great friend to the United States and the United Kingdom is certainly one of our closest allies. The President appreciates the close partnership we have and the efforts that we have worked on together to make the world a safer place. And in terms of their electoral politics, we'll leave that to the people in the United Kingdom to address.

Q Thank you, Scott. The United States Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Baker, had mentioned yesterday North Korea has two nuclear bombs now. Does the United States have any specific solution for nuclear free in Korean Peninsula?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President, in fact, spoke with Prime Minister Koizumi this morning. He spoke to President Roh last week. We continue to work to achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution to the situation regarding North Korea. We are working to move forward on the next round of talks so that we can get North Korea to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And we are making progress in terms of that framework, and we're -- right now we're working to set the next round of talks through the six-party framework. We're working very closely with all our partners in the region to persuade North Korea to abandon its ambitions for nuclear weapons.

Go ahead, John.

Q Thank you, Scott. Getting back to Chairman Arafat, members of his family and his inner circle have indicated that in the event of his passing away, he chooses to be buried in Jerusalem, which would be extremely controversial. What's the administration's position on that? And have any plans been made to send anyone as an official representative --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, going too far into this. I don't think it's an appropriate time to discuss some of these matters. We recognize that that is a sensitive matter that the parties are working to address. And beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to go any further.

Q Can I have a follow up --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm going to keep going. Several people have their hands up.

Q Has the President been given any information about Chief Justice Rehnquist's health, beyond what the public has been told?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you all are aware of his situation. It's not my place to speak for the Court about his health. We wish him a speedy recovery, and we wish him all the best during this time.

Q In a general manner, Scott --

Q I'd like to follow up on that. The President before has used recess appointments for judicial appointments. Is that an appropriate mechanism to use for a Supreme Court judicial nomination?

MR. McCLELLAN: There is not a vacancy at this point, so --

Q No, but is -- but would a recess --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to speculate about something when there's not a vacancy.

Q But I'm asking about procedure. Would a recess appointment be something President Bush would consider doing --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any discussion of such. I haven't heard any discussion of such.

Go ahead.

Q The President made it very clear that he would oppose any tax-simplification bill that poses as a tax increase. But isn't that position likely to be at odds with the reality that any tax-simplification bill will wind up plugging various loopholes and, in effect, will raise taxes on certain groups, while possibly cutting the taxes on other groups? Isn't that a conceptual problem for the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, he outlined that it should be revenue-neutral. I think that may be one thing you're referring to. But this President is committed to lowering taxes, not raising taxes. And he's made that very clear. And so these are issues that the bipartisan advisory panel will look at and work to address. And beyond that, I think it's getting way ahead of ourselves to speculate about it.

Q Scott, when the President was asked about tax reform, or when he mentioned it last week, he voluntarily said that whatever is done he would like to preserve the charitable deduction and a mortgage deduction. Well, there's a lot of ideas floating around, like a flat tax, national sales tax. By their very nature, in their purest form, if you go either of those routes, you don't have deductions. So when Vice President Cheney was also asked, he cited the 1986 Tax Reform Act as an example, not necessarily a decision. But if you go that route, what you basically do is lower your rates and reduce the number of tax brackets in exchange for less deductions. Is that something the White House is considering when they talk about a tax --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, Paula, I think it's way too premature to speculate when an advisory panel hasn't even been appointed. The President said this is going to be a top priority for him. He laid out some clear principles to guide the advisory panel, and we will look forward to getting that panel established and then seeing what the recommendations are and working very closely with Congress to move forward on tax reform that is based on the principles that the President outlined. And if you talk about raising taxes or things of that nature, the President does not believe that that promotes economic growth and job creation. We've seen, through the measures that he's taken already, that the tax relief that we passed previously is working to get our economy growing strong. And it's growing stronger.

Q I wasn't talking about tax increases --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand.

Q -- I was talking about the Tax Reform Act, which lowered rates, reduced the number of brackets. I just wanted to know if that is a possible model for what you're talking about.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not getting into speculating about it. The advisory panel hasn't even been appointed at this point. So I wouldn't speculate about it.

Q You talked about some of the important immediate short-term priorities, but I didn't hear you mention the debt limit. I'm wondering, what is the President doing to make sure that the Congress does that this month? And, secondly, is the President confident, and can you declare that this will be the last time that the debt limit has to be raised on his watch?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Treasury Department -- the Treasury Secretary has been calling on Congress to raise it for several months. That's what we've been doing. And so that's -- that remains a priority, too, and we urge Congress to do it as soon as possible. They'll be coming back into session next week, and that's one of the things that they need to act on, as well.

Thank you.

END 12:52 P.M. EST

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