For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 9, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
TOPIC PAGE #
Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen phone call................1
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release February 9, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin with
updating you on a world leader call the President had this morning.
The President spoke to Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen. The President
called to congratulate Prime Minister Rasmussen on his election
victory. The President expressed his appreciation for the Prime
Minister's strong leadership and his commitment to strengthening the
The two leaders also discussed the Iraqi elections and their
commitment to advancing the democratic process in Iraq. They agreed on
the importance of continuing international support in Iraq, while
working to train and equip Iraqis to assume greater responsibility and
ultimately provide for their own security.
They also welcomed the recent progress in the Middle East and
stressed the importance of both parties continuing to move forward
toward the President's two-state vision.
The President and Prime Minister discussed the President's upcoming
visit to Europe, including the NATO and European Union summits. And
the President said he looked forward to seeing Prime Minister Rasmussen
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, these new prescription drug cost estimates -- when you
look at what Congress first thought it was getting into when it first
signed the legislation, is this a bait-and-switch?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not, John. Those -- I think some of the
reports today are comparing apples and oranges, so let me back up and
talk a little bit about this first.
The President believes it was right to provide seniors with
prescription drug coverage and the kind of preventive care that will
help improve the quality of health care and make health care more
affordable for our seniors. There are some who are intent on
undermining the prescription drug coverage that we have provided to our
seniors so that they can realize significant savings on their drug
costs -- which they're already doing now. I think it appears to be a
case of some Democrats being for prescription drug coverage before they
were against it.
The overall costs for Medicare are actually lower than our previous
projections. That was spelled out very clearly in the budget we
released earlier this week. Now, there are some reports I've seen
today that are mixing apples and oranges and looking at two different
time periods. It is a false comparison to make. But we were very
clear with everybody previously on those projections.
Q When you say that the cost projections are actually lower,
you're not talking about prescription drug --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the projections for the prescription drug
coverage are virtually unchanged from the time period of 2004 to 2013.
Let me walk you through this a little bit.
There were some reports about a $1.2 trillion projection for
prescription drug coverage over a time period of 2006 to 2015. That is
simply not accurate. It does not take into account the $500 billion in
savings that will be realized by the federal government. So it's off
by, essentially, a half trillion dollars. It does not take into
account that states contribute to the cost of the benefit, some $134
billion. It does not include beneficiary premiums that people pay,
some $145 billion altogether. And it doesn't take into account that
the federal government is saving almost $200 billion on Medicaid,
because it will now pay for medicines for low-income seniors through
the Medicare program. And so the cost from 2005 -- or 2006 to 2015 is
Q Let's just take a look at the way that this was sold. Everybody
up on --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to.
Q -- the Hill, when they signed onto this deal, thought that the
cost was going to be $400 billion. Even some Republicans are surprised
at this new figure. When you sold this plan to them, did you hide what
the actual costs would be?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not, John. And all you have to do is go
and look at the facts. The facts are that the Congressional Budget
Office still stands by that previous projection of $400 billion for the
first 10 years of the program. There is now a projection for 2006 to
2015, when you have a fully phased in prescription drug coverage -- and
that's the cost I was just referring to -- but the President made it
very clear what he was referring to in his previous remarks. We made
it very clear. And in terms of the prescription drug coverage for that
time period, the projections remain virtually unchanged. If you go and
look, the projection from the CMS actuaries for 2004 to 2013 for the
prescription drug aspect was about $511 billion. The projection now is
about $518 billion, so it's virtually unchanged.
But, again, the overall cost to Medicare, the projections, are
coming down from the earlier projections. If you look at the numbers
for fiscal year 2006 and look at the budget, it shows that lower
overall Medicare cost -- it shows lower overall Medicare cost
projections by $7.6 billion, or less -- a reduction of 1.6 percent for
2006, and by $35 billion from the time period of 2006 to 2010. So it's
-- that's a 1.7 percent reduction from the previous estimates.
Q But you're mixing apples and oranges, because we're talking
about prescription drugs and you're talking about Medicare as a whole.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to look at the overall costs, as
well. The American people should understand what the overall
projections are, and the fact that the overall projections are less
than they were previously. Obviously, we went through this discussion
a year ago, or longer, when we talked about some of the estimates by
actuaries. Obviously, different actuaries are going to make different
assumptions and have different projections.
Q But, Scott, one of the big issues from both conservatives and
Democrats is that the President really does want to have it all here
and that this program, in particular, the prescription drug benefit is
unsustainable. That's their term. And it's completely incompatible
with the goal of cutting the deficit in half. No matter what you all
say you can actually accomplish, with so much not being included here,
that it's simply not possible.
MR. McCLELLAN: By bringing in choice and competition to Medicare,
you're also addressing some of the cost issues. We had some cost
controls that were passed as part of these reforms to Medicare as part
of the President's efforts to modernize Medicare. You just heard from
the President a short time ago in the Oval Office, where he talked
about the importance of addressing this in the future. We're going to
need to take additional steps to address some of these issues. But
right now, we just passed some historic improvements to Medicare for
the first time in its history that will provide seniors with better
benefits, more options to choose from, and prescription drug coverage
that they have not had before. And so it's going to reduce their cost
The President stands firmly behind the prescription drug coverage
we provided to seniors, and he's not going to let people on the Hill
try to take that coverage away from America's seniors.
Q Will he --
MR. McCLELLAN: Now --
Q -- veto an effort like --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on one second. Hang on one second.
Q -- by Senator Gregg to draw back this program? Because
Senator Gregg has said -- an ally to the President -- it's not
sustainable; we ought to look at limiting the size and the scope of the
prescription drug bill. If that effort is made, will he veto such an
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, what I was just going to come to before
you jumped in there was to talk about what -- again, what the President
said a minute ago and what we've said previously, that we need to focus
on putting these important reforms into place. As you are aware, the
prescription drug coverage is not fully in place until 2006, and that's
when it takes full effect. Now, we provided a discount card to our
seniors so that they could start realizing significant savings on their
prescription drug costs -- some 15 to 30 percent. But right now, what
we need to do is focus on implementing these reforms. They're an
important step for strengthening and modernizing Medicare. And at some
point, we're going to have to look at taking additional steps to
address this entitlement issue. It's an issue that the President
addressed in the Oval, and he has made it very clear that he's firmly
committed to doing that.
But we just passed these historic reforms and that's what we need
to focus on right now, is implementing those reforms and getting
seniors the kind of coverage they need. As the President has often
said, he couldn't understand why Medicaid -- I'm sorry, Medicare would
fund the heart surgery for seniors, but it wouldn't pay for the
medicine that would prevent that from being necessary in the first
This legislation that was passed provides seniors with important
preventive coverage that will address some of these cost issues.
Q It's not a debate about the merits of the program, it's just,
you know, go for it -- but then don't promise the country that you're
going to cut the deficit, too, and keep such a tight rein on these
because, clearly, you're not.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, David, it's reflected in our budget and I
just talked to you about overall cost projections for Medicare over
that time period are coming down from what they previously were. So
let's be clear with what the facts are and let the American people know
what those facts are. I think it's important for them to know the
overall picture and give them a complete picture. And there are some
reports that have simply got it wrong and made an apples-to-oranges
comparison, which I think is inaccurate.
Q Right, but the facts are also that your budget window goes out
to 2009, and these big costs, these gigantic costs in the Medicare
prescription drug benefit -- which, as you say, is now capturing the
real cost of full participation by the nation's seniors; the big costs
of the Social Security transition, which administration officials admit
will reach trillions of dollars; the trillion dollar cost of making the
President's tax cuts permanent -- those go beyond your budget window in
many respects. And the question is, the numbers really don't add up,
MR. McCLELLAN: No, go and look at the budget, Terry. It's a
detailed budget and it spells out very clearly -- it includes the tax
cuts in the budget. We've been briefing on this, this week and gone
through this. Making the tax cuts permanent is important to continuing
to see sustained economic growth. The action we took to get our
economy growing is working. New jobs are being created. We're seeing
a strong economy that's getting stronger, and we've seen 20-some months
of new jobs being created.
We need to continue to act to build upon that, and tax relief is
important to a growing and strong economy. A strong economy brings in
more revenues to the federal government as an important part of
reducing the deficit. The President has put forward a deficit
reduction plan, and it's based on that and based on exercising
responsible spending restraint. And each year in this administration
we have worked to slow the growth in non-security discretionary
spending significantly, and this budget exercises even greater spending
restraint, and we call on Congress to meet the President's budget
number that he outlined earlier this week.
Q But the President's budget reduction plan goes through 2009.
We're talking about gigantic costs that will come for his successor and
for the country when he leaves office.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a very good point to make, because this
gets into mandatory spending, and in our budget, we provide
cost-savings, I think it's of some $134 billion over the next ten
years, in mandatory programs. What you're talking about, really, are
the mandatory programs, the entitlements, Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid. We are taking steps to strengthen Medicaid. We are slowing
the growth in Medicare -- Medicaid spending from about 7.4 percent over
the next 10 years to about 7.2 percent and giving states more
flexibility so they can cover more people at an affordable cost and
getting rid of all the accounting gimmicks and loopholes that people
have exploited so that we make sure we're covering those who it was
intended to cover, the low-income Americans who rely on Medicaid.
And Social Security. This is a very important debate that we are
having right now about the importance of addressing the serious
problems facing Social Security. It faces a significant unfunded
liability and begins to show shortfalls, beginning in 2018. That's why
we need to act this year to address it so that we strengthen it for our
children and grandchildren. There's not going to be any changes for
those who are now retired or near retirement. The President has made
that very clear. But the President is -- and the President made it
clear in the Oval Office just a short time ago what we've said
previously, that there are going to be additional steps we will need to
take to address Medicare, as well. And we remain committed to that.
But right now we need to focus on putting these reforms in place,
because they are an important step to addressing some of those cost
issues and to making sure that our seniors have the kind of options and
coverage that they have waited on for far too long. And we're not
going to let people take that away.
Q Okay, so the bottom line here, as far as I can hear it, is the
President does believe we can have it all. We can have the
trillion-dollar tax cut, we can have the trillions in transition costs
for Social Security, and the Medicare costs -- and we can have that
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what budgets are about. Budgets are about
setting priorities. And you have to set priorities and make sure that
you're meeting those priorities. And then you have to work to hold the
line on spending elsewhere. That's why the President, in his budget,
proposed 150 programs for either elimination or significantly being
scaled back. He wants to make sure that government is focusing on
results, and that government is focusing on those programs that work,
that the taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
We have an obligation to meet, during a time of war -- we must do
everything we can to support our troops who are in harm's way. We must
do everything we can to support our military. We must do everything we
can in this war on terrorism that continues, to protect the homeland.
Those are -- that's the number one obligation the President of the
United States has, and he will meet that commitment. But he's also
outlined, again, a budget that exercises responsible spending restraint
and continues to slow the growth in those other discretionary programs,
and it starts to take additional steps to address some of the mandatory
I mentioned Medicaid. Social Security -- what we're talking about
there is actually bringing forward some of those costs and permanently
making it sound so that it doesn't continue to run deficits and grow
worse and worse over time.
Q Scott, what are these additional steps that you're talking
about that might be necessary for Medicare?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've talked about some of them before and
about some of the cost issues related to it. Now is the time for us to
focus on implementing these reforms. That's where we're going to keep
our focus. But we're going to continue to talk with Congress about
additional steps that we need to take --
Q Are you talking about limits on what's available?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that we'll need to take down the road. There's
been a lot of issues about the trust funds and how they're separated,
and you have two different funds for Medicare, and issues of that
nature that we've talked about in the past. There were some cost
controls, as I pointed out, passed in this legislation. That's where
our focus needs to be right now, is on implementing these important
reforms for America's seniors. And that's where we'll keep it.
Q Scott, can you just explain the Medicaid-Medicare aspect of
this, that you suggested, I think, would benefit the deficit situation
by a $200-billion savings, because Medicare would be purchasing the
drugs more inexpensively through Medicare?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm talking about the cost savings on the
prescription drug side, because this goes directly to paying for
medicines for low-income seniors through Medicare that had previously
been receiving some coverage through Medicaid.
Q So that's a savings for Medicaid, not Medicare?
MR. McCLELLAN: On the prescription drug -- I'm sorry?
Q Well, I thought you --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, this is on the prescription drug cost
projections for Medicare, a $200-billion savings. That's -- I was
pointing out the $500 billion in savings or receipts that are coming in
for the Medicare program that offset the number $1.2 trillion that some
were throwing out.
Q Scott, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying that they
feel snake-bit by this, the even if you compare -- to use your
metaphor-- apples-to-apples, $720 billion to $518 billion, whatever it
is now --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not apples-to-apples.
Q Well, let me just say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but that's not apples-to-apples. Those are
different time periods, completely different time periods.
Q Different time periods -- but that's my question, which is
that the time period of this program or of this benefit is 2006 to
2015. So why was that -- why wasn't that always the figure that
Congress was given, understanding that that was the time it would be
implemented to the time that it would be fully phased in.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the figures that they were given earlier were
the correct figures. These are different time periods that we're
talking about. The first 10 years, the projection was, as you referred
to, the $534 billion; of that, about $511 billion was the projection
for prescription drug costs. And now the projection is about $518
billion. But since the last projection, I think it was the mid-session
review back in July, the overall costs for Medicare are less than what
was previously projected. And I think you have to look at it in the
overall cost of the program, as well.
Q What's your response, though --
MR. McCLELLAN: But the $723 billion that you're referring to is
the time period of 2006 to 2015. You have two years on that, that
include when it's fully phased in. But we were very clear before on
the time period that we were talking about.
Q What the Republicans, many of them on Capitol Hill are saying
that this is what they warned of when they were a little bit skittish
about supporting this in the first place, that what this Republican
President was doing was creating a big new entitlement, and that it
would only get bigger and bigger. So to those people who are saying, I
told you so, what does the President say?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's be clear about how these news reports came
about in a couple of the papers today, or a few --
Q I'm not talking about the news reports. I'm not talking about
the specific numbers. I'm talking about something that you're
confirming, which is the $720 billion.
MR. McCLELLAN: But we're talking to the American people, and I
think they should hear the full story behind this. There was a
Democratic memo that was circulated to reporters. It was very
misleading; it was talking about some $900-some-billion in additional
cost. And then there's at least one news account that simply got it
wrong in the way they described the program in the lead of the article,
as well as the headline for the article, suggesting it was $1.2
trillion in additional cost over that time period, and comparing it two
different -- comparing two different time periods. Let's be very clear
And last night, the Administrator for the Center for Medicare and
Medicaid Services did a conference call with some of those reporters
that were asking questions about this democratic memo that was floated,
and he set the record straight, in terms of these costs. And they can
provide you all this information that I've gone through, as well, and
spell it out for you. And I think that they would be glad to do that.
Now, in terms of "many Republicans," I don't know who you're
referring to. I haven't seen any comments from "many Republicans"
today. But I have seen --
Q Senator Gregg has said that he wants to go back and --
MR. McCLELLAN: What are you referring to there?
Q -- revisit this, because it's costing so much.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a previous comment. Let's separate
it out from today's stories. So I haven't seen any comments from
specific Republicans on today's stories, certainly ones that supported
Q So you're saying it's not --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I'm asking. I mean, who is saying
and what are they saying? I mean, the President has made it very clear
that it was important that we give seniors prescription drug coverage
and it was important that we provide them with the same kind of options
and benefits that members of Congress now have through the federal
health plans. And that was an important way to strengthen Medicare and
modernize it for our seniors. It had not kept up to date with some of
the changes in medicine. It now provides preventive care on a number
of issues that it previously didn't, so that seniors can get medicines
at a much lower cost, and those medicines are intended to help prevent
them from needing some of the surgeries or other care that might be
much more costly.
Q Can we just do one more quickly on this before you move on to
MR. McCLELLAN: No, but I'll come back to you later. Go ahead,
Q The situation in Nepal is worsening, and do you think
President is going to call on the Nepali King to back-roll his powers
and restore democracy? The people are crying and --
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to urge the government of Nepal to get
back on the democratic path and to follow the constitution in that
country that is based on democracy. And we've made very clear what our
concerns are and we will continue to make clear what our concerns are.
Q I just have a quick question on Karl Rove's new and expanded
role. Will he attend National Security Council meetings in this role,
and will he participate in the President's daily intelligence
MR. McCLELLAN: No, on the latter. I don't expect any change in
that. It's just like the previous Deputy Chief of Staff; he'll do the
same thing that the previous Deputy Chief of Staff --
Q Well, what is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me back up, because there is an exception
to this. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff essentially represent the Chief of
Staff in various meetings and help to make sure that the process for
developing policy is flowing smoothly, that it's open and it's fair and
that it's moving along.
The way the decision-making process works typically in the White
House is that you have deputies' meetings where you'll have deputies
attend those meetings and discuss policy ideas that have been discussed
at the staff level, that the President has talked about. That will
work its way up to the principals, where they'll discuss it. And then
it usually goes to the President for his decision, after it's kind of
gone through that process.
So in terms of national security issues or foreign policy issues,
some of the responsibilities that were previously under one chief of
staff -- a deputy chief of staff, are now spread out over, essentially,
three people. And Karl will have some responsibilities, like
international trade issues and European issues and things of that
nature. But Joe Hagin will assume responsibilities for the Chief of
Staff's Office when it comes to intelligence matters,
counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, defense issues, homeland
security issues. I know there are some issues, I mean, like,
immigration, that are going to cross through all of those. But, you
know, essentially, Karl will represent the Chief of Staff's Office in
those meetings and report to the Chief of Staff about those issues,
that I mentioned.
Mike Gerson is going to have some of those issues, as well, where
he'll have primary responsibility from the Chief of Staff's Office
perspective. They include the compassion agenda, they include
advancing democracy and human rights in the world, among other things.
So that's the way it is now; but it's the way it has always been,
except some of those responsibilities are now split among three
Q I'm still confused as to what the answer is to the question.
When the National Security Council meets, the principles meet, would he
attend those meetings?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would not expect -- when you're talking about
defense issues or things of that nature, intelligence matters, like
that, I would not expect there to be any change. No, I would not expect
that. So that's what I was trying to make clear.
I mean, on the Deputy's level, when the National Security Council
deputies are meeting to talk about international trade issues or
European issues, I would expect that he would be attending those
Q Scott, the major deterrent in the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Ivan, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Well, thank you. The major deterrent now in lasting peace
between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas, the terrorist
organization that we know is aided and abetted by Iran. Does the
President have any specific plans to counter Hamas to try to bring them
in line? And does this U.S. general who is aiding in the security
situation there have the mandate to aid Israel? And even been going
after Hamas leaders, and even using U.S. special forces --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, we commend
very strongly the historic summit that took place this week where
President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon agreed to, really, a
cessation of violence and terrorism. It does not stop there, though.
That's an important step on the path to ending terrorism, and that
means dismantling terrorist infrastructure and cracking down on the
terrorists. We have always made that very clear.
So we commend the strong leadership shown by all the leaders that
were at the summit. In addition to the two I mentioned, President
Mubarak and King Abdullah provided very strong leadership at this
summit. We are going to do everything we can to support the parties in
the region as they move forward toward the President's two-state
vision. The President has made it very clear that it begins with
cracking down on terrorism and building a unified security structure to
end violence. And all parties have responsibilities in this regard.
We have seen, with the election of President Abbas, someone who has
shown a commitment to addressing these security issues and ending
violence, and he has shown some strong leadership. So has Prime
Minister Sharon. We have a very unique opportunity before us.
General Ward will be there as the security coordinator to help with
some of the training and equipping of security forces, and he'll be
there to help facilitate and monitor some of the cooperation between
Israelis and Palestinians. Obviously, there are some that are going to
remain intent on trying to derail the advancement to the two-state
vision the President outlined. And those issues need to be addressed,
and I think that you've shown [sic] a commitment from the parties in
the region to work together to address these issues. And we have made
very clear what our views are when it comes to Hamas. You stated them
in the beginning of your question.
Q But does General Ward have a mandate now to go further than
just to coordinate and advise?
MR. McCLELLAN: General Ward has the mandate that I think Secretary
Rice outlined and that I just described there, and that's what he will
do. His focus will be on the security side of things.
Q Scott, on Iran --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to the back and then I'll come back
here. Go ahead.
Q Does this administration believe the Democratic leaders are
now engaged in a deliberate disinformation campaign as the best way to
undermine the President's goals and objectives on a number of issues?
MR. McCLELLAN: A deliberate?
MR. McCLELLAN: We would certainly hope not. The President has
made it very clear that he wants to reach out and work together on our
shared priorities. That's what he's going to continue to do. The
President has always been one who has sought to elevate the tone and
encourage others to offer their ideas for solving problems. We're here
to solve the problems of the American people. That's what they elected
us to do. We're not here to pass those problems off to future
generations. We have some very serious challenges that need to be
addressed over the next four years -- Terry was referring to some of
those earlier in his question -- and the President wants to work
together to address those priorities. That's why he has reached out to
Democrats and Democratic leaders and said, let's work together to solve
Q Is the President -- thanks, Scott -- is the President
satisfied that the European negotiators are making adequate, timely
headway with Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: We remain in close contact with the Europeans, the
British and the French and the Germans who are in contact with Iran, to
get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Everybody, as the
President said earlier today, is sending a unified message to Iran.
Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a very destabilizing force in the
region and in the world. And the President has made very clear what
his views are. We remain, as the Vice President talked about over
Sunday, supportive of the efforts by the Europeans to get Iran to end
its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Now, time will tell if Iran is serious about doing that. They've
made some commitments. They have stated very clearly that -- what
their international obligations are. They've stated that they would
suspend their reprocessing and enrichment activities. Ultimately,
those need to end; that's been our view along. They stated very
clearly that they'll adopt the -- adhere to the additional protocol and
that they would fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy
We expect Iran to abide by its international obligations and live
up to those obligations. Time and again, they have not. And so we
will see how serious they are. And you heard from Secretary Rice
earlier today talk about how we have long felt that the matter should
be referred to the Security Council for consideration and to look at
possible action. And that remains our view. Iran needs to abide by
its international commitments.
Q So is the President officially convinced that the European
negotiators are adequately insistent?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are in close contact with our European friends.
We appreciate their efforts very much, what they are doing. They
remain in contact with Iran on these issues to make it clear to Iran
that they need to live up to their international obligations and end
their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We very much appreciate those
efforts, and we'll continue to stay in close contact with them as they
move forward. And we will see by Iran's actions, not its words, if
they are going to live up to their international obligations.
END 1:21 P.M. EST