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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 12, 2008

Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto and Julie Goon, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs
Aboard Air Force One
En route Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

9:23 A.M. EDT

MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone; how are you all doing? We're on our way to Oklahoma City, where, as you know, the President will have a roundtable discussion this morning regarding health savings accounts. I have Julie Goon with us, from the National Economic Council, knows economic policy, Special Assistant to the President and, as I refer to her, as our White House health czar -- czarina. And she's going to give you a whole lot more on the event and answer any questions that you might have on it.

The President had his normal briefings this morning. He also taped the radio address. The topic for the radio address is the remembrance of 9/11 and the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial, and also discussion of the war on terror, and specifically with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan and the speech and announcement the President made earlier this week.

As you also know, our minds are very focused and the President, himself, is very focused on Hurricane Ike making its way through the Gulf right now -- and shortly, if it hasn't already begun, at least the winds hitting landfall in Texas. I think Dana talked to you yesterday about the President's video teleconference with Secretary Chertoff. The President spoke to Secretary Chertoff again this morning.

He also spoke to Administrator Paulison about how preparations for Hurricane Ike are proceeding. He's very comfortable that Texas emergency management authorities are doing everything they can. They have a very strong team down in Texas for dealing with the hurricanes. Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with the residents in the affected areas. The President encourages all the residents of Texas to listen to the guidance they're getting from their local emergency management authorities. And if they're getting direction to evacuate, to do it quickly; but just to pay very close mind to their personal safety and listen to the guidance of local emergency management officials.

The President will continue to receive updates during the day and when he returns back in Washington today keep as close as possible to events in Texas and -- obviously a part of the country you know that he knows very well.

As I mentioned earlier, at 9:40 a.m., the President participates in a roundtable on health savings account. The President will highlight how HSAs are giving Americans more control over their health care and helping businesses make health care more affordable and accessible for their employees.

At 11:25 a.m., the President attends a McCain Leadership Committee event and a Republican National Committee fundraiser. And just to clarify something -- I think on our schedule it was listed as a McCain for President event and, as you know, since we're in the post-convention period these fundraisers are for the McCain Leadership Committee, which is a joint committee and the funds are for state victory parties. And the RNC can give you more detail on the breakdown of where the money goes, but I just wanted to make sure for your reporting that it's identified correctly.

We have a number of officials traveling with us today, a number of members of Congress: Senator Coburn from Oklahoma, Representative Cole, Representative Fallin, Representative Frank Lucas, Representative John Sullivan, and Representative Dan Boren -- all from Oklahoma.

And then one thing on the President's arrival in Oklahoma at the airport, the President will be greeted by three volunteers -- and he'll have a chance to discuss this in front of the gathered press on the tarmac. And he'll recognize three volunteers, and let me just give you just a minute on each of these three, and we'll try to get some background information out for you that you can use.

Major Dan Rooney, who is an Oklahoma resident -- Dan founded the Folds of Honor Foundation. This is a group that provides educational funding to children and spouses of active duty military members that were killed or disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dan did a lot of fundraising through the USGA and the PGA to raise money for scholarships for these families.

Karen Stark -- in 2004 Karen founded the Hugs Project. This is a group that provides homemade ties and other knitted accessories, like scarves and gloves, that go to servicemen and women of our military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The project has more than 1,800 volunteer members serving in every state and 41 countries. Volunteers with this project have sent out more than 500,000 ties and over 125 tons of care packages deployed to our service members.

And then finally, Captain Joe Castleberry. Joe is a 19-year veteran of the Oklahoma Sheriff's Office. Joe was in Oklahoma City when the Alfred P. Murrow building was bombed in 1995. And following the bombing he was inspired by the volunteer activity of Oklahoma City residents, and Joe went on to do volunteer work after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He volunteered for a number of days in Louisiana and has pulled together 18 fellow deputies to go to Louisiana to deal with more recent storms. So we'll get you some more information on that. The President will have a chance to make some remarks when he lands.

For now, let me turn this over to Julie Goon who will give you a little bit more on the event today, and we'll trade places, and then I'll come back and give you the week ahead and answer whatever other questions you have. Julie.

MS. GOON: Thank you, Tony. As all of you know, and as Tony said just a minute ago, with health care costs rising and people looking at what they're offering as benefits for their employees, this seemed like a good time to focus once again on the President's policies with respect to health care. He believes that we're reaching a point where we're either going to be doing more government-run health care where bureaucrats are making medical decisions for us, or we're going to move to something that's more consumer-driven, consumer-oriented, where patients and doctors actually have more control of their health care decisions and the health coverage decisions that guide their lives and that of their family.

Health savings accounts were established, as many of you know, in 2003 in the Medicare reform bill. They come along with a high-deductible health plan. They started being offered in 2004. In 2004 I think we had 1 million people sign up for these kinds of benefit packages. We're now up to 6.1 million in 2008. The growth has been fairly significant. And they provide a really good option, especially for small employers who are looking for ways to be competitive with how they get employees to come work for them, and yet find it often at times hard to offer employee benefits.

So a lot -- the fastest growing segment of health savings accounts has been the small employer community. This year, 1.8 million total small employers and their dependents are now in HSAs -- with HSA-eligible plans. That's up 72 percent from last year. The 1.8 million is not the total growth from last year, but that's the total number of people who work for small employers who are covered by HSAs now.

A third of new insurance coverage in the small group market in HSAs are people -- so a third of the small group market coverage in HSAs are people who previously did not have insurance, so this is also an option, you know, when employers haven't been able to offer coverage before -- they can look at the health savings account with a high-deductible plan; it has lower premiums than most HMO or PPO-type plans.

So as we were coming into this next open enrollment period for businesses, we were working with the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department to develop an HSA website that would provide just general educational information about HSAs and HSA-eligible plans, in particular, for the small employer community.

SBA is launching that website this week. This is also the week that's the 20th anniversary of the Women's Business Ownership Act, which created women's business centers across the country that work with the Small Business Administration. So SBA wanted to do an event at one of their small business centers to showcase their new educational tools on their website, and also sit down and talk to some women entrepreneurs here in Oklahoma; three of whom have offered health savings account-type plans to their employees, and three of whom are interested in doing so.

So that's what the event is about today: to showcase how we're building on the success of HSAs since they passed in 2003; to provide information to small employers about these new -- these options as they go into open enrollment; and to talk to people here in Oklahoma about how this could possibly work for them and their employees.

Q Could I get your name again?

MS. GOON: Julie Goon.

Q G-o-o-n?

MS. GOON: Yes.

Q What's your title?

MS. GOON: Special Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs in the National Economic Council.

MR. FRATTO: Thanks, Jules.

MS. GOON: You're welcome.

MR. FRATTO: Anything else for me?

Q You have another major financial firm on the brink, and several other banks have failed in the last few weeks, almost one a week at this rate. Washington Mutual is in a lot of trouble. What does the White House think about this and the state of Wall Street at this period?

MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to try to characterize the state of Wall Street. Obviously, we're paying very close attention to markets. The President gets regularly briefed, as you would imagine he would. The Treasury Department is closely monitoring the markets, and they stay in contact with market participants. There's no question that the financial industry is dealing with challenges, and it's something that we keep an eye on.

Q -- that the administration could do to reassure the depositors who have been seeing more of these banks --

MR. FRATTO: Oh, you're talking about, I think, a number of different things. And you're talking about -- I think you're talking about financial markets, but you're also talking about banks. And just to put banks into perspective, when you're talking about depository institutions like banks, those deposits are federally insured. The FDIC has oversight of the depository and thrift institutions with their insurance, and no depositor who had insured deposits has ever lost a dime since the FDIC was created.

Also, I want to put something into perspective. Also, as people talk about failed depository institutions, they are dealing with a challenging environment, but if you talk about those kinds of institutions, some people try to compare it to the savings and loan crisis.

And I'll just remind you, the savings and loan crisis was a very different kind of crisis, especially even in scope, in terms of the numbers of banks, where the numbers of banks that were failing on an average year were between 200 and 300, and as high as over 500 banks in a given year that were failing. And that's not what we're seeing today.

Q Does the administration have all the tools it needs at this stage?

MR. FRATTO: I'll let Secretary Paulson comment on what he thinks he may or may not need to deal with financial market issues.

Q Tony, have you talked to the President, is he -- what has he, personally, said about the issue?

MR. FRATTO: What has the President --

Q Have you talked to the President, and what has he, personally, said about the issue?

MR. FRATTO: I'll just tell you what I said, is that the President gets -- has been kept well-informed by his economic advisors at the White House and by Secretary Paulson.

Q On Pakistan, under what authority does the President -- under what authority has he ordered these cross-border operations in Pakistan?

MR. FRATTO: I'm aware of the reports that you're talking about. It's not a story that I'm going to comment on. And I'm not going to comment on rules of engagement with the enemy. That's something you can --

Q Has he issued, like, an executive order, or a national security --

MR. FRATTO: I don't have -- I don't have anything for you on that story.

Q What is the White House reaction to the recalling of ambassadors in Bolivia? I mean, what is the state of our -- are we concerned about our -- the drug --

MR. FRATTO: We want to have good relationships with all countries in our hemisphere; that's our long-term goal, and that's what we'll continue to work with. I'm not going to -- I think --

Q -- recalling of ambassadors.

MR. FRATTO: The State Department responded to Bolivia's actions yesterday. I don't have anything to add to what they said.

Q Is the President going to get involved in this?

MR. FRATTO: The President, as I said, wants to see good relationships with all of our -- all of the countries in the hemisphere. But I don't have anything to add to what the State Department has said on that.

Q Is there any concern at the escalation with Venezuela, because they, too, have kicked out the U.S. ambassador down there?

MR. FRATTO: We have -- I've seen those reports. We haven't heard anything officially from when I left, and when I last spoke to the White House. So I'm not going to comment on comments. If something official happens, then we can maybe react.

Q Tony, automakers go before Congress today to talk about this, the possibility of getting government guaranteed loans to help them with their troubles. And maybe I should know the answer to this already, but here do -- how does Bush see all of this? And then, what is his feeling about bailing them out?

MR. FRATTO: Yes, we're aware of what the automakers are asking for. They've been very clear about it publicly and privately. There's language in the legislation of course, that -- from the 2007 energy bill that is -- what they're looking for, in terms of funding.

The Energy Department is working on those regulations. But I don't have anything new, in terms of what other ideas the auto companies have. Obviously, we want to be very, very careful about the government's role with private enterprise out there. There are lots of industries that are dealing with challenging economic conditions, and it's always important to be very cautious about the federal government's role.

Q -- still be doing quite a few fundraisers that he's going to be attending?

MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry?

Q Do you know of any other fundraisers that Bush is going to be attending between now and the election?

MR. FRATTO: There will be more. I don't have a schedule for you on other fundraisers.

Q -- McCain?

MR. FRATTO: Yes, I mean in the -- I think there's at least -- I believe there's at least one more in this same kind of, you know, McCain leadership committee fundraiser. But I don't -- I don't have the date of it right now.

Q Are there any McCain campaign events, you know --

MR. FRATTO: I don't have anything for you right now for the schedule.

Q Do you know if they're going to appear together at all?

MR. FRATTO: I don't know. I don't know. The President is -- you have to remember, this is an election all the way with a deep ticket. I mean, with Senate candidates, State parties and members of the House of Representatives that the President wants to support and raise money for also.

And we need to be strong all the way through this ticket. And the President has -- the President has raised a lot of money in this campaign. He'll continue to raise more money. And we're going to make sure that those funds are put to good use to help those candidates.

Q -- appear together?

MR. FRATTO: The McCain campaign will run the McCain campaign. We don't -- I don't have anything more on that.

Q Do you know if the President watched Governor Palin's interview on ABC?

MR. FRATTO: He saw some of the coverage. He thought she handled herself well.

Q Are his feelings hurt that she wasn't readily available with an answer about what the Bush doctrine is?

MR. FRATTO: I don't have anything on that. Let's go through the week ahead -- or do you have any more, or are we good? The week ahead. Let's see, Saturday and Sunday the President will be in Washington.

On Monday, September 15th, the President and Mrs. Bush participated in a South Lawn arrival ceremony for the President of Ghana and Mrs. Kufuor. That will be on the South Lawn of the White House at 8:55 a.m.

At 10:35 a.m., the President meets with the President of Ghana in the Oval Office. We'll have stills at the top. At 11:10 a.m., the President and President Kufuor will make a joint statement in the Rose Garden. It'll be pool for cameras and open for correspondents.

At 2:55 p.m., the President participates in a photo opportunity with the 2008 Boys and Girls Clubs of America Regional Finalists and Youth of the Year. That's in the Oval Office, and there will be stills at the bottom.

And at 7:00 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush greet the President of Ghana and Mrs. Kufuor at the North Portico, where they will then go to -- they'll have a photo opportunity in the Grand Foyer. There will be pool coverage for that; it's open press for the arrival.

And then 8:05 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush participate in a State Dinner with the President of Ghana and Mrs. Kufuor in the State Dining Room. And that will be pool for toasts only. And then we'll have pool for cameras, open for correspondents. The President and Mrs. Bush viewing entertainment in the Rose Garden at 9:20 p.m. that evening.

Tuesday, September 6th, is to be determined. Wednesday, September 17th, the President meets with the President of Panama in the Oval Office, pool at the bottom. And at 7:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the President and Mrs. Bush attended an Iftaar dinner with ambassadors and Muslim leaders. And that's in the State Dining Room of the White House. And that will be pool for remarks only.

Q What about travel for the hurricane, are you expecting that?

MR. FRATTO: I'll let you know if we have anything.

Q Thanks.

MR. FRATTO: Thank you.

END 9:43 A.M. EDT

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