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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 5, 2006

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me start with one announcement, and then I want to preview tomorrow's remarks on the economy. Later today the Department of Health and Human Services is going to be making available $733 million in low-income energy assistance, including $100 million in emergency contingency funds targeted to areas with the greatest needs. These are funds that the President signed into law as part of the Labor HHS Education Bill on December 30th. The high cost of home heating this winter mandates this special response to help low-income Americans heat their homes and provide for their basic needs. The President is pleased to be able to work with Congress to provide this important relief.

Tomorrow the President looks forward to going to the Chicago Board of Trade and talking about our economy. Our economy is strong and growing because of the pro-growth policies that we have pursued and put in place. We have seen nearly $4.5 million new jobs created since May of '03; the unemployment rate is below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s at 5 percent; consumer confidence is up; more Americans own their home than at any time in our history; minority homeownership is at a record high; real after-tax income is up; manufacturing activity has grown for 31 straight months. The tax cuts that we passed are working to create jobs and economic opportunity.

In Chicago, the President will talk about the steps that we need to continue to take in Washington to keep our economy growing and making sure that opportunities of a strong economy are reaching every community in America. Our economy is the envy of the world, and is the fastest-growing economy of any in the industrialized world. So tomorrow what the President will do is focus on three key elements of our strategy. The President will talk about the importance of increasing opportunity by keeping our economy growing, and in that aspect he'll focus on a couple of specific areas. He'll talk about the importance of tax cuts and the importance of tax cuts to creating jobs and opportunity. And he'll take on those who would advocate raising taxes. It's important to make the tax cuts that we have put in place permanent. He will also talk about the importance of spending restraint. We need real discipline in Washington with the taxpayers' money. We need to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money.

We're making important progress. Each year the President has been in office we have cut the growth of non-security discretionary spending; 2006 we proposed the most disciplined budget since Reagan was President.

A second aspect he'll talk about is making sure that workers have the skills and the job training that they need to fill the new jobs of the 21st century, particularly in our changing economy that we are in. In this aspect, I think he'll focus on closing the wage gap. He'll talk about how education is key to closing the wage gap, and that higher education levels mean higher incomes for American workers. And he'll talk about the importance of helping workers make sure that they have the education they need to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century economy.

And the third aspect I think that he'll focus on in his remarks is increasing opportunity by expanding trade, and talk about the importance of opening markets abroad to American products and workers. That means jobs here at home and expanding opportunity here at home. And he'll talk about the importance of a level playing field in that regard, as well.

In addition to the President and his remarks tomorrow in Chicago, let me give you an update on some of the other high-level administration officials and what they'll be doing talking about the economy tomorrow. The Vice President will be participating in a tour of a Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City, Missouri, and then he will be delivering remarks on the economy.

The Secretary of Treasury will be participating in some television interviews in the morning and visiting the New York Stock Exchange. The Secretary of Commerce will be in Louisville, Kentucky to meet with Louisville Slugger officials and local business leaders to discuss the strength of our economy. And he will hold a media availability. The Secretary of Labor will be in Baltimore to make remarks on the economy and talk about the President's job training initiatives. And then the Secretary of Energy will be in Pittsburgh talking at the Pittsburgh Energy Summit, 2006, to discuss energy issues with local leaders in Pittsburgh.

And that is all I have to begin with. I'll be glad to go to your questions. John, go ahead.

Q Secretary Laird said, when he came out of the meeting this morning, that the President heard some things from the participants that he didn't like. What did the President hear that he didn't like today?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what he was referring to. You might want to ask what he --

Q I don't know, either, so that's why I was asking you.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- what he was referring to. The President welcomed the opportunity to sit down with this distinguished group of Democrats and Republicans from previous administrations. I will tell you -- to give you an accurate picture of what took place in that meeting -- the President talked about how he wanted to hear from each of these leaders, that he valued their advice and ideas. And he talked about the importance of what we're working to achieve in Iraq and how that is important to helping lay the foundations of peace for generations to come, and the importance of spreading democracy.

So this was really an opportunity to update them on our plan for victory and the progress we're making, as well as to talk about the difficulties and challenges ahead. The President has talked often about how while we're making important progress, there are going to be tough days ahead. We have seen that today has been a tough day in Iraq. We lost five of our bravest soldiers and there have been suicide bomb attacks on a holy shrine in Iraq; there was a suicide bomb yesterday on a funeral procession, where the enemy is targeting innocent civilians. We know the enemy wants to disrupt the transition to democracy and disrupt the formation of a new government. But every step of the way, they have failed to stop the political process from moving forward because the Iraqi people want to live in freedom and chart their own future.

And so these leaders were able to hear from General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad about the progress that we're making and about the challenges that remain. But they had some very good questions and some constructive ideas that the President welcomed the opportunity to listen to. And I think that was, by and large, most of the discussion was focused on the progress we're making, as well as listening to some of the constructive ideas that they had.

Q So you were at the meeting, did you see any comments from any of the former Secretaries that the President didn't seem to like?

MR. McCLELLAN: He appreciated the opportunity to sit down with them. I think they had a very open discussion about things, but for the most part, he heard constructive ideas that he appreciated hearing. I know there was one Secretary that talked about the importance of making sure the military is calling the shots, and that it's not being based on the political side here in Washington, D.C. Well, that's something the President has talked about often, that the decisions on the ground need to be made by our commanders on the ground. It's our military leaders who are in the best position to make the decisions about troop levels. And they understand the mission. They understand the stakes involved, and they know what they need to complete that mission.

He heard about some ideas on the formation of helping the new government be an inclusive one that represents all Iraqis. He heard some appreciation from these -- I think a number of these leaders, if not all, that they appreciated the speeches the President has been giving, talking to the American people about our plan for victory and making clear to them the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead, and doing so in a very open and candid way. And they encouraged him to keep doing that.

And one of the leaders, one of the Secretaries, former Secretaries at the end, I think summed it up -- and everybody seemed to nod their heads -- said, "Thank you for bringing us here. I can't recall another time when a President has done something like this."

Q Scott, former Prime Minister -- or former Secretary Eagleburger said that Prime Minister Sharon's stroke was a disaster for the peace process. Does the White House agree with that assessment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Terry, let me make clear a couple of things, this is a time to keep Prime Minister Sharon in our thoughts and prayers. And that's what we are doing. We pray for his recovery, and we will continue to keep our focus there. I think Secretary Rice, earlier today, made very clear that the desire for peace in the Middle East is wide and deep within Israel and within the Palestinian Territories. And in terms of the situation right now, we continue to stay in touch with the government of Israel and we pray for Prime Minister Sharon.

Q What impact do you think this has had on the peace process?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Terry, I think this is a time to keep our attention where it should be, which is on the health of Prime Minister Sharon. The President is concerned about his health situation. He had a good discussion with Secretary General Annan earlier today on some other matters, and they talked about their shared concern for Prime Minister Sharon's health. He is a courageous leader who has taken some bold steps to help advance peace in the Middle East. But the desire for peace is strong in the region and it is wide and deep, as Secretary Rice indicated.

Q Scott, could I please follow on that?


Q Effectively, Ehud Olmert is effectively in power at this point. I know he has a very close relationship with the Bush administration. But do you believe that -- do you have confidence in his ability to push forward Sharon's vision? I mean, you talk about how Sharon was such a powerful leader.

MR. McCLELLAN: Under Israeli law, he is the acting Prime Minister right now, and he is someone who is well-known and well-respected, and he is someone who we will work with in his acting capacity on issues of mutual concern.

Q May I follow also? Does the U.S. think it's wise to delay the elections both in Israel and in the Palestinian area?

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe that the elections should go forward on schedule, and we've expressed our desire to President Abbas. This is a schedule -- it was set by the Palestinians and we believe it's important to move ahead on schedule, and we've expressed those views on a number of occasions.

Q And the Israeli elections?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Israel also has elections coming up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right. I haven't heard any discussion about any delay there.

Q Were you able to find out whether Abramoff was part of the transition team, and in that respect, had any relationship to the Interior Department?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of any individual agency, I think you'd have to go and check with the people who were involved in that transition. In terms of the overall transition effort, I mean, we had an office that was running -- I was very involved in that effort -- and he wasn't a member of the staff of any of the transition team here in Washington, D.C. But in terms of --

Q He wasn't on the team at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any other formal role he had, but again, if there are individual agencies where they might have sought advice from people, you have to ask those individual agencies, or people that were involved within their transitions.

Q Does the President think that 120 people dying in Iraq, after we're nearly three years into this war, is tolerable?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Iraqi people, Helen, have shown time and time again that they want to live in freedom. I think it's important to look at what took place in December. There are terrorists and Saddam loyalists --

Q Why are we there? Why are we killing people there?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- there are terrorists and Saddam loyalists -- because we're transforming the Middle East, and that will help us lay the foundations of peace for generations to come.

Q -- didn't ask you to do that, their country.

MR. McCLELLAN: We were attacked on September 11th and --

Q We were not attacked by Iraqis.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we ever said we were. But what we learned on that day was that this is not a law enforcement war we're engaged in. This is a war about the safety and security of the American people. It's not a law enforcement matter. It's a war. We are a nation at war. And this is a comprehensive effort that we're taking. We're not ignoring threats. We are confronting threats before it's too late. And that's what this President will --

Q You had none from Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's what this President will continue to do because he knows his most important responsibility is protecting the American people. And spreading democracy in the broader Middle East is vital to our own nation's --

Q Don't do it by attacking an innocent country.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- vital to our own nation's security. And the Iraqi people have shown they are deeply appreciative of the efforts that we have undertaken to remove a regime that was a threat and a destabilizing force in a dangerous region of the world. And we are going to change a troubled region for the better, and it will help lay the foundations of peace for generations to come.

Go ahead.

Q Did any of the former Secretaries have anything more than constructive suggestions? Did they think anything was wrong? Did they --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what's important --

Q -- did they give ideas to you for what the administration should be doing differently?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. Absolutely.

Q In what categories?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were some ideas. Well, I'll let them speak to their ideas. I gave you a general overview, but I said, yes, there were a number of constructive ideas or suggestions that they had of things that maybe we ought to do differently. And the President very much welcomed their advice and said, I want to hear your ideas; we welcome good ideas about moving forward. But he also talked very clearly about the plan we have in place and the progress we're making on it.

Remember, the plan we have in place is something that is dynamic. We adjust and adapt. We learn from experience. Where there have been mistakes, we have worked to fix those problems and move forward. And that's the nature of the war we're engaged in. And what's important is that we are continuing to move forward toward completing our mission.

And in terms of some of the comments that were made by some of these former Secretaries, I mean they talked about the importance of continuing to internationalize the effort, the importance of continuing to speak to the American people about our plan, as well as about the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead. I think each one of those secretaries can speak for themselves in terms of what some of those were.

But the President looked forward to this opportunity as a way to consult with some distinguished individuals who have a lot of experience.

Q Can you also explain something about -- you often say the Iraqis are in charge, or that's up to the Iraqis. How far does that go? I mean, are they in charge of --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a sovereign nation.

Q But when they choose someone to head a brigade that the United States isn't very happy about.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to talk to the military about those matters, because --

Q No, I understand you're going to say, let's talk to the military.

MR. McCLELLAN: You may be referring to some recent reports, and I'm not sure that the military commanders would necessarily say that those reports accurately reflect the way things are.

Q But if something happens in the training of Iraqi security forces, who is ultimately in charge? The Iraqis are in charge because it's a sovereign nation --

MR. McCLELLAN: It is a sovereign nation. But I think the way to look at it is that we're working very closely with the Iraqi security forces. And I think our commanders have talked about how they are more and more in the lead and controlling more of the territory. I think the number -- and double check this with the Pentagon -- is that only 13 percent of the operations are now coalition-only operations, that the vast majority of the operations are either conducted by Iraqi security forces or with coalition forces and Iraqi security forces.

So what we're continuing to do is make sure that we're training and equipping them so that they have the capability to defend themselves. And that also means embedding people into those security forces, so that we can make sure they're getting the proper training, and that where there are setbacks or things are falling short, we can help address those issues.

Q But they make the decision, all the decisions.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a sovereign nation. We work in partnership --

Q Detainee policy, on anything.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we're working in partnership with this, and certainly we're helping in assisting them on those efforts. And I think that they appreciate the job that our men and women in uniform are doing, and they respect the advice that is given by our military commanders on the ground.

Q Did any of the former Secretaries raise any questions about the use of the NSA spy program, since they would all have --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, wasn't discussed in this meeting.

Q Not in any way?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not in any way.

Q Do you have an update for us on --

MR. McCLELLAN: I did -- I will say, I was in the Roosevelt Room, they went over to the Oval Office, but that was just to -- for the President to visit informally and take some pictures with them. I wasn't there for that.

Q Any update on the Abramoff visits to the White House beyond the three parties that he attended?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I indicated yesterday that I think there were some -- a few staff-level meetings. But, no, I'm making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that. And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon.

Q Scott, going back to terrorism and Israel. For the last 20 years, Israel and India were the first countries victims of terrorism, and still today both are there. Now elections are going to take place, and Hamas is -- they are saying that they are going to win the election, and they are not going to back up their target in Israel and killing innocent people.

Now, there's a chaos going on, I understand now, in Israel, and also Irani President has also -- he has never apologized for what he said about Israel and bombing -- or Israel that they should be moved out of the area and all that. What other --

MR. McCLELLAN: What question do you have?

Q My question is --

MR. McCLELLAN: About three issues in that.

Q -- where do we stand as far as now terrorists will be coming in Palestine which we are hoping that -- we hope that there should be or there will be democracy, just like in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as terrorism is concerned, where do we stand in the future?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of our views on Hamas, they are very clear, and they are unchanged. Just last week, the Quartet, of which the United States is a member, put out a statement talking about some of those issues. I was -- would encourage you to go back and look at that statement. We support the Palestinian people moving forward on the democratic process, and we are there helping them to put in place the institutions for a viable state to emerge. And that's what we're committed to doing.

Q On Iran, the President of Iran never apologized what he said or what he believes on terrorism, and also going ahead with the nuclear program?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that his continued outrageous comments only further underscore the concerns the international community has about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. That is a serious concern. That is why the international community is demanding that Iran come into compliance, that they abide by their agreements. Iran's statements and actions only continue to further isolate themselves from the international community, and if they continue on the path that they are going and the negotiations continue to run their course, then we will have no option -- the international community, that is, will have no option but to look to the Security Council.

Go ahead, Victoria.

Q Scott, is it possible to, nevertheless, keep Sharon in our thoughts and prayers but comment on the peace process and its future at the same time? Can't those things happen simultaneously?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I did make a general statement about the commitment to peace in the Middle East.

Q But in a more specific way, in terms of if he is incapacitated and what his incapacitation would mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'm not -- I don't think it's appropriate to get into those discussions at this time. What's important is to keep Prime Minister Sharon in our thoughts and prayers right now.

Q And then one other one, on the meeting with the Secretaries this morning. About how much time did each Secretary have to speak given that there were quite a lot of them, and not much time in the meeting?

MR. McCLELLAN: Several of them either asked questions or commented in a variety of ways. The meeting lasted probably -- and he was probably with them an hour or so. They heard from General Casey. They heard from Ambassador Khalilzad. These are our people who are on the ground, our civilian and military leaders, about the progress on the political front and about the progress on the security front, and about the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead. And they asked questions during that time when those two individuals were talking, and then afterwards, there was an opportunity to kind of go around the table and get people's thoughts and ideas. And several of them expressed some very good ideas.

Q Can I follow on Iran --

MR. McCLELLAN: You already had your questions. Go ahead.

Q On Iran -- well, they were follow-up, the other was follow-up -- when will the U.S. give up on diplomacy on Iran, and what other options are there? Are these threats to be --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I just touched on it. Iran needs to abide by the agreements that it has made and needs to fully comply with its international obligations. The actions and statements that the regime is making only serve to further isolate the regime in Iran from the rest of the international community. We have serious concerns about their pursuit of nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. They have a long history of concealment and a long history of failing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. And Secretary Rice talked earlier today about this very matter, as well, and she made it clear that if it becomes clear the negotiations have run their course, then we have the votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency to go to the Security Council, to refer the matter to the Security Council. There is a resolution that is sitting there, and the votes are there to refer the matter.

Remember, the last meeting they had, they called on Iran again to come back to negotiations and act in good faith. We continue to support the efforts of the European-3 to resolve this diplomatically, but Iran's most recent actions and statements only show that they are continuing to pursue a course that isolates it from the rest of the world.

This is a matter of trust. They have shown in the past they cannot be trusted, and that's why these negotiations are so important.

Q You said that threats need to be confronted. If Iran doesn't listen to the Security Council, what options are left?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has talked about this in the past, and we've talked about it in the past. We continue to support the efforts of the European-3 to resolve this in a diplomatic way. But if the negotiations come to an end and it becomes clear, then the Security Council is something that the international community is prepared to refer the matter to.

Q Scott, some of what you're saying sounds an awful lot like the preamble to Iraq.


Q So how long do they have?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- remember, the President has talked about this. Let's go back to what the President has said. It's not the same as -- it's not the same as Iraq. The President said that in Europe. Go ahead.

Q When did Dr. Rice say all this?

MR. McCLELLAN: She had a breakfast with some reporters earlier today.

Q Scott, a two-part. Does the President believe that the nation, and especially West Virginia, deserve a real apology from the Associated Press and other old big media who reported those coal miners were alive?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think it was a very heart-wrenching experience for the families and the community in West Virginia with the confusion that occurred and the communication the other day. The families of those who lost their lives remain in our thoughts and prayers. Our hearts go out to them. There is an investigation that has been launched by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and one aspect they'll look at is the communication and what happened with regard to that. And I wouldn't want to draw any conclusions.

Q Yes, but my question is, does he believe that the AP and other old big media should apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not drawing any conclusions, Les. You're trying to get me to draw conclusions.

Q Okay. Navy Chaplain --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- based on something that will be looked at --

Q Navy Chaplain --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that we know was a horrible thing that happened for the families and the community there.

Q Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt has gone without food for two weeks in his protesting of the Navy's ordering him not to mention Jesus in public prayer. He's hoping for an executive order. Does the President believe that the Navy should engage in this suppression of the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President believes strongly in the free exercise of religion. And he believes that it's important that our military personnel be able to freely express themselves --

Q Will he order them, in an executive order?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to religion. And we value the contributions of our military chaplains to our men and women in uniform. And we're committed to safeguarding the ability of people to freely express their religious views.

Q When did he issue an executive order --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make clear --

Q Isn't he going to do that, as Commander-in-Chief?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not talking about any specific matter, but I'm talking about the principles and what we're committed to doing.

Q Scott, a few days ago, conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts had a column where he compared the administration's use of September 11th with Hitler and the Reichstag fire as a blanket cover for extraordinary measures. Now, this is coming from a conservative columnist; this is not Nancy Pelosi. Doesn't this concern you that these kind of reactions have come up especially with all the revelations about the NSA and spying?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen his column -- I haven't seen his column. But what -- your characterization I would reject wholeheartedly.

Q Scott, you said some of the members of the Cabinet Hall of Fame who met with the President this morning had suggestions on how to go forward. Did any of them challenge the President or have any questions about the wisdom of the overall strategy to date?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's a common commitment within that room to succeed in Iraq. Everybody in that room understands the importance of succeeding. And I think everybody in that room would say the same publicly. It's important that we succeed in Iraq. Sure, there are differences of opinions. The President talked about that in his remarks. There were some that didn't support the decision that he made to go into Iraq. Presidents have to make tough decisions and he's fully aware of the decisions that he makes and the consequences of those decisions --

Q Did any of them tell him that --

MR. McCLELLAN: It was the right decision to go in there and remove that regime. And now it's important that we stay focused on what we're working to accomplish, because a free Iraq will help transform a troubled region and help inspire reformers throughout the broader Middle East. It will serve as an example to reformers in Iran and Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

Q Did anyone at that meeting look at the President and say, you've made some mistakes, and mention any of them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think they expressed some of their views on things that they think maybe we could do -- some of them did -- that we could do differently, or things that we could build upon.

Q What kind of things?

MR. McCLELLAN: I said -- I indicated earlier that I'll let them speak for themselves. They're very capable individuals.

Q They told us to ask you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think they spoke to the press out there; I don't think that's what they said. Nice try.

Q That's where they told us to ask you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Nice try. (Laughter.)

Q Roberts wasn't there. (Laughter.)

Q Scott, there are a number of parties and countries around Israel that -- where the support for peace is not exactly "wide and deep." What would this administration's message be to anyone plotting to take advantage of the current vacuum in Israel?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, our focus is on Prime Minister Sharon and his health situation. He is in our thoughts and prayers. And you're asking me to speculate beyond that. I think we ought to keep our focus where it should be. But I would dispute part of what you insinuated in that because I think very strongly that people throughout that region want to live in peace and freedom. And that's what the President has been committed to for a long time, helping the parties move forward on the peace process.

Q Scott, you know that Iran has designs on Israel; you know that there are elements in the Palestinian territories that do, too. Are there no concerns that one of these entities is going to try to take advantage of the current vacuum in Israel?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you say "current vacuum," there is an acting Prime Minister in place, someone who is well known, well respected, someone we have worked with, and someone that we will work with in his acting capacity to continue to move forward on issues of mutual concern.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Paula.

Q On the economy, you said the President will be addressing the deficit as one of the areas tomorrow. I was wondering, besides the short-term deficit, will the President or Cabinet officials be addressing their concerns over a long-term deficit?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think he will. Entitlement programs are something that need to be addressed. The President has been leading in talking about the importance of modernizing and reforming our entitlement programs. This goes to the big problem that we face when it comes to deficits, and that's the long-term deficits. We must address these issues. And the longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes and the more limited the choices become. That's why this President has been leading the way to address these issues now because this is about helping future generations realize important benefits and not being straddled with massive debt.

And one thing that the House and Senate have done is move forward on proposals that we outlined in our budget to significantly reduce mandatory spending in entitlement programs. And we appreciate the efforts that they've undertaken. They have agreed to -- I think it's some $40 billion in savings in mandatory programs over the next several years. And it's important that they move forward and get that finalized and get it to the President's desk so he can sign it.

They also moved forward on, I think, some 89 programs that were either -- that were not working or not necessary. They reduced or eliminated those programs. So there's good progress being made, but the President is serious about fiscal discipline. And if we're serious about fiscal discipline in Washington, we must address the long-term deficits issue. And I do expect he will talk a little bit about that tomorrow within his remarks.

Q Well, is there any concern, though, about the long-term deficit from making tax cuts -- particularly the alternative minimum tax -- permanent after 2009, and the effect that could have on the deficit?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've expressed our views on the alternative minimum tax, and we've also talked about our commitment to tax reform, as well. And that's something that we have been looking at, and that the Secretary of Treasury is looking at now.

Q But I thought tax reform was supposed to be revenue neutral.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q I thought one of the parameters of your tax reform recommendations are that it should be revenue neutral.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and one of the -- one of the things that we recommended was that they take a look at AMT reform within the context of that, as well.

Q What's the President going to talk about this afternoon? And would you expect him to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked a little bit about it earlier in the gaggle.

Q Would you expect him to mention Prime Minister Sharon in his speech this afternoon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep you posted if there's anything new to add there.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thank you.

END 1:42 P.M. EST