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

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

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Haven, Connecticut

9:42 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. Let me just touch on the President's day, and then I'm here for whatever questions you have. First of all, this morning, the President had breakfast with the bicameral Republican leadership. They had a good discussion. The focus of the meeting was on pressing legislative priorities.

They talked about immigration and the importance of moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform; they talked about energy issues and moving forward on the President's advanced energy initiative. We're certainly concerned about rising gas prices, and that is all the more reason why there's a sense of urgency for Congress to move forward and pass what the President has proposed to address the root causes of rising gas prices. And they talked about the budget, they talked about tax reconciliation, and some other issues, like avian flu preparedness and the nuclear agreement with India. I think they talked about Iraq. But the focus was really more on the pressing legislative priorities right now.

Then following that, the President had his usual briefings. When we departed, as you all saw, the President made some comments on immigration reform. The Senate is continuing to debate this important priority, and the President was reiterating the importance of moving forward in a comprehensive way, and encouraged the Senate to get this done soon.

When we get to Bridgeport -- I previewed a little bit of the event yesterday, at the briefing. I talked about some of the panel participants in this conversation on health savings accounts. And so you have that already. Then when we return back this afternoon, the President has got a meeting with some Republican members from the House. This is part of the ongoing meetings he's been having.

And then this evening, he's got a -- the President and Mrs. Bush are hosting a screening of "Voyage to Kure." This is a group of islands in the Hawaii area that we are looking at providing a sanctuary for that area. So this is -- the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to hosting this screening this evening with friends that they have invited over to the White House. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.**

And that's all I've got. Oh, wait, one other announcement. The President will welcome President Kufuor of the Republic of Ghana to the White House on April 12th. The visit will provide an opportunity for the President to recognize Ghana's strong democracy and President Kufuor's efforts to invest in the people of Ghana. The two leaders will also discuss a broad range of regional and international issues, including continuing cooperation in regional security, trade, debt relief, education, combating HIV/AIDS and Ghana's upcoming compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. We'll be putting out that statement for release here shortly.

That's all I've got.

Q What does the President think of the Massachusetts bill on health care?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is the Department of Homeland -- I'm sorry, the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has actually been in close contact with Governor Romney and the state of Massachusetts as they've been moving forward on this legislation. I know CMS will look forward to seeing the details of the legislation, because part of this includes a component that involves expanding Medicaid coverage to cover some of the children that are currently not getting that insurance coverage.

But the Deficit Reduction Act provided for some greater flexibility when it comes to Medicaid coverage, and allowing states to have greater flexibility there. I think it's another example of how the states are really the laboratories of democracy in our federalist system. But the President today will be talking about his comprehensive plan for reforming our health care system, to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans as well as helping to expand choices and give patients more control over their own health care. And that's what he'll be focusing on today.

Q -- model for the rest of the country on mandatory health care?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'd describe it the way I did. Again, the President is focusing on his comprehensive plan for reforming health care today. He'll talk about all five elements of his efforts to make health care more affordable and accessible, and also talk about -- specifically focus on health savings accounts, and why this is another important option that patients ought to have. We want to strengthen the patient-doctor relationship. And that's what the President will be focusing on in his remarks today.

Q With regard to the health savings accounts, Senator Grassley said last month he wouldn't bring up a bill because he couldn't get it through a filibuster. There's no evidence that there's much of a budgetary priority on this. It's an uphill battle for the President, isn't it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd look at it that way at all, Dick. I think that there are a number of leaders that recognize the importance of continuing to move forward on initiatives that will help us address the rapidly rising costs in health care, and help small businesses that are struggling to provide coverage for their employees.

And health savings accounts have been very successful. You've seen since March of last year now some 3 million people that are enrolled in health savings accounts. And the President wants to expand this option for Americans, because it provides them with a high-deductible, catastrophic coverage while allowing them to have tax-free accounts to cover other medical expenses. And so it's a great option for many Americans.

One of the things we'll do today is put out a fact sheet on health savings accounts, as well as a myth fact sheet, as well, dispelling some of the myths about health savings accounts. They're two separate fact sheets. So I would encourage you to look at that. But the President believes we need to act on all the initiatives that he has proposed, whether it's health information technology -- expanding health information technology, access to electronic records, medical liability reform. And I expect he'll touch on all of those in his remarks.

Q Does he feel that his State of the Union agenda items such as health care and the competitiveness agendas have been overshadowed by things like Iraq and the Dubai Ports thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. In fact, he's had good discussions with members of Congress that he's been meeting with over the last several weeks about these important priorities. Just last week he had a good discussion with a bipartisan group of senators on the competitiveness initiative. This is a group of senators, Democrats and Republicans, that expressed their appreciation for the President's proposal in his State of the Union. And they think it provides a real opportunity for the Congress to move forward and to act on those initiatives.

And the President has talked about how there are a number of areas where we can work in a bipartisan way to get things done for the American people. And the initiatives he proposed in the State of the Union are some of those. The energy initiative is certainly another one. These are the priorities the American people care most about. They care most about -- they're concerned about rising gas prices, they're concerned about high gas -- rising gas prices, they're concerned about high health care costs.

And that's why it's important we continue to act on these initiatives. We have a very strong economy in place, but to keep it growing and keep it strong, we need to address these important priorities, as well.

Q Any reaction to the DHS arrest?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a very serious matter. I know the Department of Homeland Security has said that they will cooperate fully with the investigation. The individual who was arrested is someone who is a civil servant. My understanding is that the Department of Homeland Security has placed that individual on administrative leave. But these are very serious allegations.

Q Any repercussions, maybe a change in the strategy for hiring, or monitoring people? Anything like that? Do you foresee anything changing in the future for somebody like this?

MR. McCLELLAN: For something like this?

Q For somebody in a situation like this, to avoid it, when people are hired, work for the government -- do you foresee any changes that -- maybe background checks that are more thorough, or -- how could something of this nature happen, do you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, these are very serious allegations, and I think the Department of Homeland Security recognizes that, and that's why they placed this individual on administrative leave, and they will cooperate fully with the investigation as it moves forward. But I don't -- I'm sorry?

Q This afternoon, he's meeting House Republicans?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, what about it?

Q Do you have any more details on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's part of ongoing meetings he's having. I mean, I'm sure they'll talk about the agenda and important legislative priorities, as the President has been with other members of Congress.

Q What was your reaction to these referendums in Wisconsin, from the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're the first one to ask about it.

Q First question I've had.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think all Americans want our troops to come home. I think most Americans recognize the importance of succeeding in Iraq, as well. And I think most Americans want to see our troops achieve victory. And that's what's important. It's important that the Iraqi leaders continue to move forward and form a unity government that is based on strong leadership and represents -- that represents all Iraqis.

And that's -- and we are continuing to keep our focus on the strategy for victory that the President has outlined. The worst thing we could do is withdraw before the mission is complete. And that would be retreating. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do. But they cannot shake our will. They cannot -- we will not lose our nerve. The President understands the importance of a free Iraq for laying the foundations of peace for generations to come.

Thank you.

END 9:54 A.M. EDT

**The President and First Lady will view a film called "Voyage to Kure", a documentary by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, about the Pacific Northwest Hawaiian Islands, one of our nation's greatest and largely unknown national treasures.

It is the most remote archipelago in the world. The islands stretch for more than 1,000 miles and have significant archeological, cultural, economic and historic significance. It is also the home of more than 7,000 species -- a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The administration is in the process of proposing a new marine sanctuary for this area which is one of the largest in the world.

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