For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 7, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to update you on one call the President made this morning. The President called the owner of the New England Patriots, Bob Kraft, to congratulate the team on their Super Bowl repeat.
And I'd also like to touch a minute on tomorrow's speech in Detroit. The latest unemployment numbers -- or the latest employment report was released Friday, and it showed that the President's policies are working to strengthen our economy and keep it growing stronger. We have seen 20 straight months of new jobs being created. More than 2.7 million jobs have been created since May of 2003, and the unemployment rate has now dropped to 5.2 percent. We have overcome a series of challenges to our economy. You've heard the President talk about it; you've heard Director Bolten talk about it earlier today. We must continue to act to build upon the results we have achieved. There's more work to do, and the President looks forward to going to Detroit tomorrow to talk about his plan for extending prosperity and economic growth to our children and grandchildren.
He will focus on three key areas in his remarks. Keeping our economy strong starts with Washington exercising responsible spending restraint. Earlier today you heard from my colleague, Director Bolten, who outlined the 2006 budget. The budget focuses on our nation's highest priorities, protecting and defending the American people, and expanding opportunity at home by improving our public schools and expanding access to health care. It calls on Congress to exercise even greater spending restraint than the first term so that we can stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. We must spend taxpayer dollars wisely and focus those dollars on programs that work. The President is committed to results-oriented budgeting.
We also need to continue to build upon the pro-growth policies that have led to strong growth and job creation. That means making tax relief permanent. It means stopping lawsuit abuse. It means ending excessive regulation and addressing rising health care cost, and passing a comprehensive energy plan, and expanding free trade and making sure that with free trade we have a level playing field for our workers to compete on.
Finally, and he did in the State of the Union address, the President will discuss modernizing the institutions that have helped keep America strong, like our public education system, and helping more students get a college education. He'll talk about job training and the importance of making sure we have an educated work force for the 21st century, making our immigration system more compassionate and better, simplifying the tax code, and, of course, saving Social Security for our children and grandchildren. So the President looks forward to speaking to the Detroit Economic Club tomorrow and talking about those important priorities.
Q Scott, what's the administration's reaction to the plans for a cease-fire to be announced tomorrow between Israel and the Palestinians? And was that a factor in the President's invitation to Prime Minister Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas to come here?
MR. McCLELLAN: My reaction is some of what you heard the President say earlier and some of what you heard me say previously, as well. This is a hopeful period in the Middle East. You have the two parties, the representatives of the Palestinian Territories and the representatives of Israel engaged in an ongoing dialogue to talk about how to move forward to achieve the President's two-state vision.
The two leaders will be meeting this week, Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas, to talk about how they can continue to build upon the positive steps that have been taken in recent weeks. And I don't want to try to preview that meeting from this podium. Obviously, they may have more to talk about once they have met. I think we've previously talked about cease-fires and ending violence and stopping terrorism. The Palestinian leadership has shown a commitment to ending violence and cracking down on terrorism. They've shown a commitment to putting their security forces on the border areas to prevent attacks on Israel. All parties have responsibilities, and it's important that parties seize this opportunity to move forward to the President's two-state vision. So we welcome the meeting taking place tomorrow. Secretary Rice has had good meetings with the leaders. She spoke with the President earlier today. They had a good discussion, where he received an update on the trip, as well.
Q Was that -- was the reported cease-fire part of the President's invitation to meet with -- for them to meet with him?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that this was something Secretary Rice was planning on doing during her visit, and wanted to meet with those leaders, and she announced that they had accepted the invitation. The President has met with both leaders in the past, and he looks forward to meeting with them in the future to advance the two-state vision that he outlined in 2002.
Q And do you have any more on when and where?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. We are still working on all the details of that trip -- of those meetings, and we'll keep you posted as those are finalized.
Q Scott, the President described his budget this morning as lean. But the projected deficit for 2006, minus money for Iraq is higher than the deficit this year, minus money for Iraq. So how does that -- how does he square his terminology of calling this a lean budget with the deficit realities here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, just as you have to look at the budget over a series of years, you need to look at how we're addressing the deficit over a series of years. The Director of OMB outlined the 2006 budget, and he talked about how we are on track to meet the President's commitment to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
We have -- since the President came into office, we have met our priorities and shown spending restraint in the budgets. We have worked to slow the growth of discretionary spending each year in this term -- bringing it from when it was 15 percent before he took office on non-security discretionary spending to about 1 percent, or less than 1 percent last year. And this year, non-security spending -- discretionary spending will be a cut of nearly 1 percent. Overall discretionary spending will be less than the rate of the growth in inflation.
And so that's what budgeting is about; it's about meeting your priorities. And one of our priorities is to exercise even greater spending restraint so that we can meet our commitment to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.
Q But a higher deficit this year, without Iraq, again, and a higher deficit projection for next year, minus Iraq, than this year, minus Iraq -- that doesn't exactly suggest a lean budget.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Director Bolten talked about this. I disagree with you. I think if you look at the budget, it shows that we are exercising even greater spending restraint than we have in the previous few years. This is a responsible budget that funds our nation's highest priorities and keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. The President is strongly committed to a deficit reduction plan. That's what -- he has outlined a deficit reduction plan. It is based on, first and foremost, continuing strong economic growth, because if you have strong economic growth, that increases revenues coming into the Treasury. And it's also based on working with Congress to continue to exercise responsible spending restraint. We've seen Congress meet the President's commitment to exercise spending restraint in the previous budgets, and we believe that they will do so again this year.
Q So if you can just illuminate for us, if you're doing such a great job at restraining spending, why is the deficit projection higher for next year than it was for this year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have to go back and look at what we've been through over the last few years, John. I can go through that again, but I think you've heard it, everything that we've been through. And we're in a time of war. You must remember that, as well. And there are important challenges that we have an obligation to meet, first and foremost, to protect the American people, to defend the homeland from attack and to make sure we win the war on terrorism. That is our nation's highest priority.
We also have a priority to continue expanding prosperity and opportunity here at home. And the budget reflects a commitment to meeting that priority. And we also have a -- and part of expanding opportunity and prosperity is showing spending restraint. It's one of the issues the President will talk about tomorrow. It begins with exercising responsible spending restraint. And this President has consistently shown a commitment to doing that, and now he is calling on Congress to show even greater spending restraint as we move forward.
Q Concerning the needs of the American people and the concerns that you talked about -- for education, for example, does the budget provide for fully funding things like No Child Left Behind and -- to be sure that there's no needs that are not addressed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- look, all the individual Cabinet agencies I think are briefing on their respective budgets. And we have shown a strong commitment to making sure that we're improving our public schools, and that we're insisting on results. One of the most important aspects of this budget that the President talked about earlier today is that it is results-oriented. It makes sure that we are meeting our priorities, such as making sure that our children are receiving a first-rate education, and the other priorities I mentioned in John's question, and then it shows spending restraint elsewhere in the budget.
But, yes, we continue to meet our commitment to improve our public schools and make sure that we are closing the achievement gap. We have made important progress, and this budget reflects a commitment to results.
Q So are no cuts in the education?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Speaker Hastert says your budget is a good starting point. Does that sound to you like it might be rewritten quite a bit?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw Speaker Hastert's statement earlier today, and it was a very positive statement. I think any time a budget goes through the legislative process that you can expect there's going to be discussion and changes along the way. But what you've seen over the previous few years is that Congress has worked with us to meet the President's budget outline. And we expect that they will continue to work with us and meet the President's commitment for holding the line on spending while funding our other priorities.
Q Right after elections in Iraq and on the eve of presidential address, State of the Union, King of Nepal killed a 13-year old democracy and arrested hundreds of people, including former prime ministers and all that. What message President has got for him --
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, State Department has already spoken out about this. We have real concerns about the steps back from democracy that have been taken in Nepal. And the State Department has expressed those concerns. And we will continue to make our views known to the government in Nepal.
Q But President was speaking about end of tyranny and bringing more freedom and democracy around the globe, but now democracy is --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why you heard the State Department address this issue previously. We have real concerns about the steps that have been taken. We urge everybody to continue to move forward on democratic reforms, and that includes the government in Nepal. It is a concern, the steps that they have taken.
Q As we know, the President plans to meet with Israel Prime Minister Sharon and the Palestinian Authority President Abbas. And we understand these meetings will be separate. But does the President plan to meet with both leaders together, perhaps at Camp David?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has previously met with both leaders together. They had an historic meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh previously. And, unfortunately, other events prevented progress from being made. But now we have a real opportunity before us to move forward on the President's two-state vision. President Abbas is now an elected leader, elected by the Palestinian people. He is someone who has shown a commitment to meeting the responsibilities outlined in the road map. Prime Minister Sharon has shown a commitment to moving forward on the road map, and the President's two-state vision. We appreciate the steps that have been taken. We'll continue to work with both parties and other parties in the region, as well as our European friends, to move forward on that two-state vision.
Right now, you're going to have a meeting taking place between these two leaders this week. We will do everything we can to support the advancement of the President's two-state vision. And the President looks forward to meeting with these leaders again in the future, and he also looks forward to sending Secretary Rice to London to participate in the London Conference, which will focus on helping Palestinians develop a strategy for putting institutions in place for a democratic state to emerge. But we are going to be there every step of the way to do our part to help advance that two-state vision.
Q Scott, why is the President optimistic that Congress might become close to meeting the spending restraint that he's calling on when, as I remember last year, he proposed cutting or killing something like 60 programs and maybe only three got done?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, if you look at the overall budget, they met the request that the President submitted for the overall budget. And that's why the President is optimistic, because they have, in previous years under his leadership, worked to meet the overall budget number that the President called on Congress to pass. It is a number that meets our priorities, as well as exercises spending restraint. That's why the President is optimistic about it.
And I think Congress recognizes the situation that we're in, the challenges that we face, the need to make sure we're winning the war on terrorism and protecting the homeland and expanding opportunity, while, at the same time, working to bring down the deficit and meet the President's commitment to do that.
Q So maybe some of the 150 programs actually may live?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Steve asked a question earlier about the budget process, and obviously, there's a process we go through that -- one thing the President would like is line-item veto. He doesn't now have that authority. He has called on Congress to give him that authority, which enables you to address some of these other issues. But Congress has acted to meet the overall budget number that the President has outlined in previous years, and we appreciate that. And we are confident and hopeful that they will again this year, as well.
Q Scott, in addition to John's question, how would you answer the critics who look at the deficit promise and say that they simply call it bogus, because it's based on cutting former projections? The deficit was never as high as the projection number that you're using when you say you'll cut it in half from that number.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Director Bolten has addressed that issue on a number of occasions previously, and talked about. I dismiss that charge.
Q Scott, did the President request line-item veto authority again this year in the budget?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me double-check. I think he has -- yes, I believe he continued to call on Congress to give him line-item veto authority as one of the budget enforcement mechanisms.
Q And did he ask for pay-as-you-go -- reviving pay-as-you-go rules?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's the same as what he has previously called for on the spending side of it, yes.
Q Thank you, Scott. North Korea is quoted to have sent some sort of signal to return to the six-party talks. Would you tell us, what is the content of that signal, if you have any?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's, I think, the same thing that I said last week, in terms of what the President pointed to in his State of the Union address. The six-party talks are the way forward to bringing about a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, with regards to North Korea. And we put a proposal on the table at the last round of talks. We urged North Korea to come back to those talks, so that we can move forward in a substantive way on that proposal.
Q And President called President Roh last week, and had discussions about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they had a good discussion on Friday evening. The President called him from Air Force One when he was returning from Florida Friday. And they talked about the successful election in Iraq and the importance of supporting the Iraqi people as they move forward to put the institutions in place for democracy to fully emerge. They also talked about the importance of moving forward on the six-party talks. I think all nations in the region are sending a unified message to North Korea that they need to come back to the talks so that we can talk about ways to end the nuclear program -- nuclear weapons program that they have been pursuing.
Q Scott, I've got a question about the President's new initiative to help America's at-risk youth. Are there any specific events, or were there any study results that prompted the President to focus on the issue of gangs and other problems relating --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think there was actually a briefing last week that we did on this where the background briefers talked a little bit about that. Mrs. Bush has made positive youth development a priority for her in this second term. So she's going to be focusing broadly on encouraging our youth to take the right -- make the right choices in life. She's got some trips planned this week where she'll talking about the importance of positive youth development, particularly when it comes to young boys, and making sure that they are getting the right message and that they are -- that they have the right influences in their life, as well.
Q In addition to the First Lady, can we expect the President to be also talking about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he did in the State of the Union. Absolutely, it's a priority. It's something he mentioned in the State of the Union. He will continue to talk about the importance of reducing gang violence and his commitment to meeting that priority.
Q In his press conference two weeks ago, the President expressed confidence that the press would give administration policies an objective look. Last week the White House demanded and got a correction of the Washington Post story about Social Security, and yesterday Secretary Rumsfeld took Tim Russert to task for selective editing of his comments last year about vehicle armor that he said completely mischaracterized his remarks. Is this a sign that the White House is going to pursue a more aggressive approach to the media, considering in the past it rarely challenged erroneous reporting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've always worked to set the record straight when we think something was wrong, and we will continue to do so.
Q Scott, kind of building on Ed's question -- we have 150 programs, you say, that's out there in front of us that might be cut because they're redundant or whatever. What is the President -- what does the President intend to do in terms of pressuring Congress to get rid of its own pork barrel items in budgets which help inflate these sums to a great degree?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has talked about it previously, the importance of doing that. It's important that we work together to continue the path that we are on to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And the President has outlined a responsible budget that focuses on results. It focuses on programs that are duplicative or are not achieving their results, and proposes either eliminating those programs, or significantly scaling them back. And it's detailed in our budget the reasons why.
But in terms of our priorities, you need to look at where the resources are being directed to meet our nation's priorities, to meet our commitment to improving public schools, to meet our commitment to addressing the rising cost of health care, and to meet our commitment to expand our compassion and help those who are in need. And the budget addresses those priorities. But too often in Washington, programs are created for an important purpose and to serve an important purpose, and they meet that purpose, and they continue on and on and on, and they no longer have the same purpose that needs to be met. And the President believes we need to get rid of duplicative programs, and that we need to make sure that the programs that the American people are funding through their tax dollars are achieving the intended result. And that's the way he approaches the budget. And we hope Congress will approach it in the same way.
Q As he goes on the road to meet -- beat the drum for more public support for his budget and his budget proposals, is he also going to use the bully pulpit to try to exert some pressure on Congress to cut back on their own pork barrel?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of different ways we can address issues of that nature. We need to reform our tax code and get rid of -- make it fairer and simpler, and that will address some of those issues. There are a number of ways that we can address it. Yes, he will continue to speak out about the importance of exercising spending restraint. And that's one area where Congress can show that, as well.
Q It's recently been disclosed that the Ukraine sold Iran long-range nuclear missiles. It would be naive to think that Moscow and Vladimir Putin was unaware of the sale of these missiles. And does the sale of these missile to Iran affect the President's supposedly warm relationship with Vladimir Putin?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I'm not in a position to talk about any intelligence matters of that nature, but we have made it very clear that combating proliferation is a top priority. Proliferation is an issue we take very seriously. That's why the President has implemented the Proliferation Security Initiative. We have more than 60 countries working together to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or longer-range missiles. And we will continue to make it priority. But I'm not in position to verify, confirm or deny any reports of that nature.
Q Two quick topics.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q Will the budget be the subject of his speech tomorrow in Detroit?
MR. McCLELLAN: Were you not here for the beginning? (Laughter.)
Q No, I was on the phone outside talking with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Read the top of the transcript.
Q Second question, any further response from the President on the allegations concerning his knowledge of steroid use by the Rangers?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I talked to him, and he wasn't aware of that at the time, if there was. But he -- he has recognized for some time that steroids is a growing problem in professional sports, particularly Major League Baseball. That's why the President has made addressing the issue a priority in his administration, because the use of steroids or performance-enhancing drugs sends the wrong message to our children. And it also has harmful effects on those who use it. And the President commends Major League Baseball and the players' union for working together to take an important step to address the issue by expanding drug-testing programs and increasing penalties.
Q Just want to be clear. On the Rangers, are you saying there was no use, of if there was, he didn't know about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: The second part -- the latter, yes. If there was, he was not aware of it at the time.
All right, thank you.
END 2:06 P.M. EST