TRANSCRIPT: WHITE HOUSE DAILY BRIEFING,
FEBRUARY 5, 2001
(Bush tax plan, NMD, Embassy bombing trial/NYC,
Congressional Black Caucus, energy policy, Greenspan/OMB,
Rumsfeld/defense budget, Israel, White House vandalism,
Clinton/White House gifts, AIDS/Africa, Canada/PM Chretien's visit)
February 5, 2001
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 5, 2001
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
Trial in New York......................3
Lunch With Chairman of
Embassy in Israel................................15
White House Offices...................15-16
Tonight's Readout on
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 5, 2001
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:12 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Hello, troops. Good afternoon. I
have two personnel announcements to begin with. President Bush
today announced his intention to nominate Mark A. Weinberger as
Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Tax Policy. And President
Bush today announced his intention to nominate Dr. Paul Wolfowitz as
Deputy Secretary of Defense. News releases will be circulating
after today's briefing.
Those are my only announcements and I'm prepared to take any
QUESTION: Ari, will the President actively seek to block
any move despite corporate lobbyists on the Hill to add on to the
tax plan that he's going to send up this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President proposed a tax plan that he
believes is the best tax plan for the country, both to give people
their money back that they paid in high taxes to return the tax
surplus to the voters before the politicians can spend it, and also
to promote economic growth.
There, are, of course, First Amendment speech issues that are
involved in what people can do who are not elected officials, and we
don't presume to tell people what to do or how to carry out their
business, but the President will fight for the plan that he sends up
to the Hill.
Q: Well, he seemed to indicate that this morning, and he
phrased it in terms of this idea of add-ons to the tax bill.
I'm just wondering, how determined is he to make sure that the
American taxpayers get their slice and that American corporations
don't get a piece of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's remarks were focused more on
Congress than on anybody else. The President will propose it
and the Congress will consider it, of course. And throughout
that process, the President will advocate and fight for his tax
relief proposal. Congress, of course, will lend its voice to
it as well. And that's who the President was talking to.
Q: Following that, though, when he's saying -- talking
about loading up a tax plan with their own vision of tax relief,
minus the right size plan, is that a suggestion that he wants to
hold the line against Republican plans to add on taxes? Is
that a message to Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a message to everyone, to all sides --
Democrat, Republican alike.
Q: But is it a message just that I'm not going to accept
anything lower than that what I proposed, or also, I don't want
anything higher than what I proposed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the likelihood is, what you will see
is a number of Democrats say they want to keep taxes higher, and
therefore they shouldn't cut taxes -- Bush shouldn't cut taxes as
much. I think you might see some Republicans who say it's not
enough tax relief.
The President's proposal, in his opinion, is the right amount to
Q: Is it their position that they want to keep taxes
higher, or they just want to give back what we can currently
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, if you don't cut taxes as
much as President Bush has proposed, if you say the tax cut must be
a different level, a smaller level, that means people will pay more
taxes than they are currently paying under the Bush proposal -- than
they would pay under the Bush proposal.
Q: It's totally a matter of semantics.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I do for a living.
Q: At the Wehrkunde Strategic Policy Conference in Munich
over the weekend, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said in effect that the
decision to deploy a national missile defense is a done deal.
As you know, there is strong opposition on the part of many NATO
members, as well as Russia and China, and there are some who believe
that Russia could try to use this issue to split the Alliance.
Having said all that and realizing that, is there any wiggle room in
there? Are there any conditions under which the President
would choose not to deploy, or is he still totally committed to
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you go back to September of 1999
and examine the President's statements at the time he gave a series
of defense and foreign policy speeches, it is very clear that
President Bush believes very deeply that the best way to preserve
the peace is through the development of a national missile defense
to protect against an accidental launch or a rogue missile launch --
rogue nation launch of a missile. And he intends to pursue
that matter in consultation with our allies, and he will indeed
pursue it. He believes it's a very effective way to protect
America and our allies.
Q: One follow-up. If this opposition becoming a
groundswell and really becomes serious, and there's danger of the
Alliance falling apart, any possibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on any
hypotheticals like that. We're going to continue, the
President will continue to consult with our allies and friends as we
proceed and move foward.
Q: Ari, the embassy bombing trial just got started in New
York today. I wonder what the President's expectations are for
the trial's outcome, and also, since two of the suspects are charged
with worldwide conspiracy associated with Osama bin Laden to kill
Americans and to destroy American property; so I wonder what steps
President Bush is going to take to counter terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to, for the moment, refer that
question to Mary Ellen, to the Department of Defense.
Q: On the tax plan, Bush indicated today he was in favor of
making it retroactive to the first of January. Lindsey said
yesterday that Bush also favored accelerating it, which implies
shifting more of the benefits into the first year of the plan.
Can you kind of clarify exactly what the President would accept in
terms of front-loading?
MR. FLEISCHER: By definition, if you make it retroactive
you've accelerated it. It's one and the same.
Q: Okay. But it seemed from the discussion yesterday
that there were two different issues they were thinking. I
mean, it could take effect early, but it could also have -- be
MR. FLEISCHER: There are two primary ways to address the
question of when the tax bill goes into effect and at what rates it
goes into effect. And let me underscore that what the President
indicated today, you heard him say it, and what Mr. Lindsey
said. We're going to work with the Congress. And the
proposal that the President will make on Thursday will mirror the
proposal he made during the course of the campaign.
Now, we are hearing from a number of people in the Congress,
given the economic slowdown, the importance of making it
retroactive, and you heard the President and his support of that
today. Now, there are two principal ways that you can impact
the effective date of the tax cut and then there's a third way that
actually gets more benefit to taxpayers sooner.
You can make it retroactive. Obviously, we're here on
February 5th; if you make the tax cut retroactive to January 1st,
that, in effect, clearly speeds it up. You can also change the
phase-in rates. The tax cut, for example, the 15 percent
bracket comes down to 10 percent. Under the plan the President
announced during the campaign, it comes down in a series of stair
steps, from 15 percent to 10 percent, over a period of years.
You can change the period of years. That's another optional
way to accelerate. That will all be what we work on with the
The third way is by adjusting withholding tables. So as
workers, for example, in this year, in 2001, where you don't pay
your taxes until April of 2002, if you don't change your
withholdings, taxpayers don't receive the benefit until, in most
cases, 2002. You can change the withholdings to address that
question as well.
So those are a series of the options that the administration is
looking at and will continue to work with the Congress on.
Q: Let me ask about the retroactivity. Doesn't that
inevitably increase the cost, pushing it forward over a 10-year
period? And isn't this kind of an example of one of the
add-ons that the President himself warned against?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is an example of the type of add-on
that the President has indicated he is taking a serious look at for
the past several months. So this is not surprising, this is
something the President, given the softness in the economy, sent a
lot of signals he was looking at.
Q: And would it increase the cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it all depends on what other
steps are taken in the plan. And, again, as we work it through
with the Congress, we heard a powerful statement from the president
today about what the ultimate size should be. Mr. Lindsey has
addressed the same question and we have established a pretty
clearly-defined ballpark where we think this should end up. I
think that helps establish fiscal discipline because there always is
a tendency in tax legislation, if you're not careful, to add too
much to it.
Q: Does that mean if things are accelerated, he's going to
want it to balance out on the other end so it's roughly the same
MR. FLEISCHER: The other area you're going to have to look
at is what impact does it have on growth. President Bush, as
you know, comes from the school of thought that says cutting
marginal income tax rates leads to higher rates of growth, and if
you have higher rates of growth, you, of course, increase
Q: So he doesn't mind the new growth then?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're all going to see what the dollar
amounts are as the proposal moves forward. But the President
and Mr. Lindsey clearly spoke today about the ultimate size that we
think the tax cut should be limited to.
Q: If the size is clear, Ari, will you, in fact, attach a
cost estimate when it goes up on Thursday?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I do not anticipate that will be this
Thursday. As with our previous announcements, I anticipate that will
be after OMB has a chance to carefully crunch the numbers, which
will be not too far from now. Each passing day in February, we
get closer to that day where I've suggested -- probably late
Q: Are you asking anyone on Capitol Hill going to take a
closer look at it and actually do anything on it if they don't know
what the cost is going to be?
MR. FLEISCHER: The traditional pattern is that the
President will propose it, Congress takes a beginning look at it,
the budget then comes up -- really, we're not talking very
long. If this tax proposal gets sent up to the Hill on
February 8th, I think it's just a matter of a couple of weeks after
that where the OMB will then have its chance to submit the actual
numbers that would go along with any budget proposal the President
would make, and that's really a function, frankly, of the fact that
it's a new administration, and it's typical of a new administration;
is not in a position to put down in writing all the specific numbers
until the economic bluepint is ready.
And then following that, Congress will take a look at it on its
own, and they will ask the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is
Congress' official estimator of tax cuts, to weigh in on how much
they estimate the tax cut costs.
Q: But I understand on a lot of these things, you've been
reluctant to give out the numbers and everything. But, surely,
on the tax cuts, you know what the cost is, because it's obviously a
large-ticket item and you can't really figure out the other things
until you know what the cost to the taxpayer is.
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to be careful and thorough, and
that's why the Office of Management and Budget will be the ones who
put the price tag on it.
Q: Ari, the press secretary of Texas Congresswoman Johnson
confirmed that while non-blacks can join the Congressional Black
Caucus, they're called auxiliaries, and they are not allowed to
vote. And my question is, if the President had known about
this racial discrimination, would he have invited this organization
to the White House, or did he know about it and believe it's all
right because they're black?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, there are a number of congressional
caucuses and groups that have formed over the years, and it's the
prerogative of Congress --
Q: None are racially segregated, Ari, I've checked
it. None of them are racially segregated. Only this.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the prerogative of Congress to set
those terms and I would refer any questions on that to the
Q: Well, doesn't he think think they would want to stop
this racial discrimination, Ari? He certainly isn't in favor
of racial discrimination, is he?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President met with the Congressional
Black Caucus and I gave the report on the results of that meeting
and I think he would be pleased to meet with them again, as he
Q: Could you give us an update on energy policy? Has
the Policy Development Group been working and should we look for
something on this issue next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: They have been working. They continue
to meet. I think the last meeting was on Friday of last week
and they -- when we have something in the way to announce, we will,
of course. That group, I want to remind you, is focused on the
national energy policy that the President ran on during the course
of the campaign. And that's where we stand.
Q: And I'm a little bit confused on that. Why do you
need to develop policy when you laid out the policy during the
campaign? Why do we take that approach on this issue when we
haven't on the others?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the same reason that, during the
transition, we had an Education Working Group that developed the
fine print on the policies that the President sent up two weeks
ago. It is part of good government. It began with the
campaign, of course, but then you bring in all the new people into
the administration from the various agencies so they can actually
see what it was the President proposed during the campaign for any
people who were new to the administration. And it also just
allows us to put meat on the bones for a variety of these
Q: Will we likely see anything different than what he
proposed during the campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it will be substantially like what
he proposed in the campaign. We have to allow the working
group to develop its product.
Q: Back to the numbers question on when we are going to
have hard numbers on the cost, I thought you had said a while ago
that the OMB would be doing just a general blueprint on the budget
and that we wouldn't have real budget numbers until later.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: So does that mean in February we are going to have real
budget numbers on all the President's proposals?
MR. FLEISCHER: The economic blueprint traditionally has a
series of costs of the major programs and of, all, for example,
domestic discretionary spending, defense spending. So you will
have a lot of top line hard and accurate numbers. Then the
follow on in April will be down to the appropriated item levels
which is the big, thick phone book worth of statistics and
But you will have an awful lot of what you are looking for in
that February blueprint.
Q: Ari, the Democrats, in addition to the size of the tax
cut, many have talked about the distribution of it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q: Are there elements of progressivity injected into your
tax cut plan that aren't apparent to us at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's a very progressive tax cut plan
that President Bush has proposed. And, frankly, it
disproportionately helps people at the low and middle end of the
scale. And the reason for that is by dropping the 15 percent
lowest bracket down to 10 percent and by doubling the child credit
from $500 to $1,000, you deliver a lot more oomph and help to people
at the low and middle ends of the scale.
One of the families we were joined with this morning would have
their entire income tax burden erased under the President's
proposal. They would have a $1,000 -- they currently pay about
$1,000 in taxes and this proposal would eliminate virtually all
their income taxes that they pay.
On the other side of the scale, when it comes to taxes paid by
the top percentage groups in the country, the President believes
very strongly that no one should pay more than 33 percent of their
income in taxes. Under the current system, the top rate, just
for income alone, is approximately 40 percent. When you add
into it the amount of taxes people pay for their Social Security and
for their Medicare, and for the deductions that they're no longer
entitled to take, the federal taxes alone can be in excess of 50
percent for some people.
Now, consider that also when you take a look at the fact that
President Bush's proposal will cut taxes for all Americans. He
will not punish those who are successful. But to put it in
perspective, the top one percent of taxpayers in this country pay
34.8 percent of all the income taxes in this country. The top
10 percent pay 65 percent of all income taxes in this country, and
they pay 50 percent of all taxes in this country.
We have a progressive tax code. And the tax cut that the
President will deliver to the Congress this week will cut
taxes. The biggest percentage gainers will be low-to-moderate
income people. But he will indeed cut taxes for all income
tax-paying Americans. He thinks it's the right thing to
Q: Ari, how realistic is it to think of this as an economic
stimulus plan, given the size of the non-Social Security surplus
this year and next year? In other words, if he stays within
the boundaries of that number, the dollars that would be funneled
back to taxpayers just simply would not seem to be enough to amount
to much of a stimulus at all.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are three reasons the President
thinks we need to cut taxes. And the first is that the
surplus, the tax surplus belongs to the taxpayers. It's their
money, and they deserve it back. Two, if you don't cut taxes, the
politicians of both parties will spend that money. And three,
he does believe, and he said at the time he announced his tax cut,
that this can be an insurance policy against economic
downturns. And he believes all three of those are powerful and
good reasons to cut taxes.
Q: And as an insurance policy, does that constitute, then,
sort of a self-stimulus?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly it does. It can be a
stimulus of a level that I think economists will discuss, and some
will agree with more wholeheartedly than others. But it is the
belief of many people, including the President, that cutting taxes
can be a stimulus. It's one of the reasons he expressed his
support today for retroactivity.
Q: The President used the term "class warfare" again this
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q: Does he believe that those who don't like the mix of the
different tax brackets that he is proposing are engaging in class
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is a -- there is always an
endeavor in this town to deny tax relief to people, because they
accuse some people of being rich or successful, and therefore
they're not entitled to tax relief. And that's just not a view that
President Bush holds.
We shouldn't split people by class. We shouldn't split
people on the basis of success or not success. All income
taxpayers deserve tax relief, and that's why the President's
proposal addresses it for one and all.
Q: Well, let's say that one of the opponents believes,
okay, the size of the tax cut's about right, but I just think -- and
I'm for the idea of having four brackets as opposed to five, it's
fine -- but I just don't think the particular levels he's chosen for
those four -- is he still engaged in class warfare?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if someone were to make a rather
economic, esoteric, scholarly argument like you just did, that
wouldn't be class warfare. (Laughter.)
But the game in this town often is to try to divide people and
try to disparage and criticize others because they are
successful. They call it "tax cuts for the rich." That's
not going to be the approach of this administration. The
approach of this administration, of this President, will be that all
income taxpayers deserve tax relief, and no one should be denied tax
relief because they worked hard and were successful.
Q: In the spirit of bipartisanship, does that mean he's now
open to tinkering with those four brackets?
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard the President address that
today. He thinks his proposal's the right one and will fight
Q: Ari, who initiated today's lunch meeting between the
Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the President? Will it be
a regular thing? And are taxes on that agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a periodic meeting. I don't
know that it's going to be a regular meeting, I haven't
inquired. And the agenda will be private, their discussions
will be private, as is the tradition between --
Q: And who initiated today's lunch?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to find out. Don't know.
Q: Ari, can we go back to Energy just for a minute?
Let me talk about energy. As you know, the ten Western
governors met with the Secretary of Energy in Oregon on
Friday. They asked that a cap be placed on wholesale sales of
energy to those states, and the federal government, through the
Energy Secretary, has said thanks, but no thanks. Is there
anything the federal government can do to alleviate the
situation? And is this in a way punishing California because
the President California?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not even close. As far as the notion
of price controls, the President does not believe that price
controls work, and that is why he does not see that as an option
that would be helpful to anybody, in either the short run or the
As for the question of what can the federal government do, we are
reviewing whatever steps the federal government can do. We're
pleased to see that California has acted and has passed legislation
to begin to address the problems in California.
But I want to remind you that, for example, the question of the
two-week extension that the President provided to have forced sales
of energy and natural gas, electricity and natural gas from other
Western states to California, is not a one-way street. By
providing that from the other states, it creates an impact on those
other states. It affects their ability to have energy for
their needs within those states. It's not as if you can just
flip on a Western switch and power California. It has
implications for the region as a whole.
The President was pleased to extend that order for two
weeks. It expires tomorrow, and it shall expire tomorrow.
Q: And it will not be extended again?
Q: Has the President changed his thoughts about the
importance of Africa, especially since Colin Powell last week said
that Africa is very important to his agenda. And also, what
are the President's thoughts about the letter from Dick Gephardt and
Bill Clay about renominating Ronnie White?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of Africa, the President
himself brought that issue up in the meeting of the Congressional
Black Caucus last week and said that Africa will be on the front
burner of foreign policy for him, that it is a priority.
And the question of the nominations, I'm not going to discuss
personnel. The President is aware of the request.
Q: I have a follow-up to the Africa situation. During
the second debate with Gore, he said -- basically he said that
Africa wasn't as important as European countries. So what made
him change his thoughts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's a fair characterization
of what he said in the context of that debate. But the
President said what he said last week at the Congressional Black
Q: On tax cuts again, you said a couple of moments ago that
the President wants to make sure that everyone gets tax relief?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q: And that was framed along the idea of making sure the
people in the upper income brackets get income tax relief.
But, as people start talking about this on the Hill, they are going
to have to live within a budget. And, as you know from your
time in Congress, those with the most influence get what they
want. And the people with the most influence tend to be
corporations and upper income earners.
What will this President do to ensure that middle and lower
income Americans do get their tax relief as this process goes
through on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me dispute the premise of that. I
think we have a rather balanced system, where all Americans get
represented in the end rather fairly. I can cite you a number
of pieces of legislation that were enacted into law. The
Welfare Reform of 1996, for example, was very bipartisan and I think
that helped lift up a lot of people in this country who were
suffering and who were poor. And I am not sure they are the
best represented in this town, but that piece of legislation was,
indeed, one of the noblest and most helpful legislations.
So on that score, what's important is that you have leaders both
in the White House and the Congress who hear the voices of those who
are on the bottom. And that is one of the reasons I want to
remind you that President Bush sent his tax writers back to the
drawing board in the fall of 1999. That's one of the reasons
President Bush then took on the Republican House of Representatives,
to fight for the Earned Income Tax Credit program.
Those are beliefs that are fundamental to President Bush.
And, as a result of that, that's why, frankly, he doubled the child
credit from $500 to $1,000. That disproportionately helps
lower income people.
Q: So in the next 180 days, he will do what to ensure that
those people, that as you say he has fought for in the past, get
their slice this time?
MR. FLEISCHER: He will fight for his tax plan with
everything he can. Because his tax plan does disproportionately help
people at the low and middle income ends of the scale.
And the reason I say that is any time you cut taxes across the
board, people who pay the most taxes will receive the dollars back
generally in proportion to which they pay. And, as I explained
earlier, the top 10 percent of taxpayers in this country pay 65
percent of the income taxes. The bottom 20 percent of taxpayers in
this country pay less than one percent of all taxes in our society
-- the bottom 20 percent pay less than one percent.
The President wants to still help and protect those bottom 20
percent and that's why the proposal he sends up there cuts that
lower rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, which was a previously
unheard of notion on Capitol Hill.
Q: So if it comes to a budget crunch and somebody has to go
without, will he fight for the people in the lower income
MR. FLEISCHER: He is going to fight for his proposal, which
takes care of all income tax paying Americans.
Q: Ari, last week you said that the defense budget the
President sends up will be lean. I am wondering by "lean," how
that will stack up with the numbers that President Clinton submitted
in his place-holder budget. Is it going to be more than that,
less than that, about the same?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes very much that we
need to make certain that America's military is the best in the
world and is able to complete its mission and is very concerned
about cutbacks that have affected the military. And he was
looking forward to the Pentagon completing its review which
Secretary Rumsfeld has directed the Pentagon to begin.
At the end of that process, we will have then a new strategic
vision of what the force structure for the Department of Defense and
for our nation's military will be and at that point, the President
will be in a stronger position, along with Secretary Rumsfeld, to
make those determinations.
Q: But that won't be done in time for your budget
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: What's your first year plan? Is it going to be the
Clinton placeholder or are you going to ask --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it will be reflective of the President's
promise during the campaign to increase defense spending by
approximately $45 billion, where that extra money goes to give
military men and women a pay increase and to improve housing.
The rest of it will be determined by the force structure review and
the president looks forward to working with the Secretary on
But that is also part, I think, of a wise approach to budgeting.
Identify first what the strategic needs are. Once you've
identified the strategic needs, then work directly and closely with
your Cabinet secretaries to have the exact dollar amount required to
fill out those needs.
Q: Ari, can you clarify something on retroactivity?
The President said today he is for it. Is he going to formally
propose it on Thursday? Will that be in --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the proposal he will make Thursday will
mirror the proposal he made during the course of the campaign.
And as he indicated today, he will work with members of Congress on
the question of retroactivity. He supports it.
Q: So he's for it but he's not going to propose it?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. He is going to propose
the plan on which he ran. But, just like on education, we made
some minor modifications to the education package because of some of
the things he heard on the Hill. He has shown a willingness to
work with members of Congress on both parties on all his
proposals. And you are going to continue to see that.
He is going to fight for the package that he proposed in the
campaign, the core principles in it, and we are going to work with
Q: Ari, the President said or you said the President
believes that the surplus is the taxpayers' money.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: But that raises the question of whose money is the debt.
Presumably, any delay in paying off the debt continues the
obligation of future taxpayers to pay, you know, for the borrowings
made now and in the previous years. So how does he resolve
that, you know, moral question?
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's exactly why the President's
proposal pays down debt as well. Under the President's plan,
and actually over the last three years, debt has been paid down by
$600 billion. The budget the President will send to the
Congress will continue that pattern of paying down the debt and,
until we are able to enact a Social Security reform, which the
President is committed to, $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years of
Social Security surplus will be earmarked for debt reduction.
And that also puts us in a stronger position, then, to reform Social
Security, because we will be doing so from a basis of less debt.
In fact, by some estimations all available debt, even after our
tax cut is enacted, will be paid off by 2006. Virtually the
end of his first term; just after that. And that is --
Q: -- what do you mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: All available debt. All available
debt. And that's a reflection of the fact that there are some
bonds that are two-year or three-year issues that are longer-term
bonds, and it makes no economic sense to pay those off before
What you do is -- the Treasury Department last week announced,
for example, they're no longer going to issue one-year Treasury
notes. I mean, it's just a remarkable event in our economic
lives for people who mark remarkable events by economic things like
Q: So this, the publicly held portion of the debt could be
paid off by --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's all available public portion of the
debt. And again, all available meaning that it just makes no
economic sense to prepay bonds, to snatch bonds out of the hands of
the people who invested in them, before they're due.
Q: Ari, do you have a number for that publicly held debt
that you're talking about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Check the CBO books. Or OMB will have
it, too, at the time.
Q: The administration has said repeatedly that it's not
going to get involved or interfere in the election. But is
President Bush consulting with foreign policy advisors about
different scenarios that could emerge after tomorrow's election?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's always talking with his foreign policy
advisors. He met with Secretary Powell this morning, for
example. But I'm not going to indicate anything beyond that,
obviously, the election takes place tomorrow.
Q: Ari, you had said two weeks ago that the administration
was going to keep its promise and move the embassy to
Jerusalem. Secretary Powell yesterday suggested that's on
hold. How long is that on hold for?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the Secretary said is that the
process is beginning, and the process is going to be cognizant of
the realities of the situation in the Middle East. And the
President has indicated that he has asked General Powell, Secretary
Powell to take a look at this matter and begin the process.
Q: Ari, you have repeatedly responded to our questions
about the vandalism of White House offices and the looting of Air
Force One discovered on January the 20th by directing us to look
forward rather than backward, because, quote, "it's all over."
But on February the 2nd, there was deafening Republicans applause
when the President said, just don't take any silverware. Now
that the President has justified our inquiry into the January 21st
past, can you, looking to the future as you've asked, can you assure
us that in 2005 or 2009 when you leave, there will be no such
vandalizing or looting of Air Force One?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can check my pockets now if you would
Let me look into the past for a moment. When the President
made that remark -- that's a remark, for those of you who covered
the campaign, you've heard it many times prior in Austin, as people
visited the governor's mansion. It's one of his favorite
things to say.
Q: But there was silverware on Air Force One, though,
Q: He must have known there was silverware on Air Force
One, didn't he, that was missing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would remind you that silverware existed
before Air Force One existed.
Q: In response to the question about the defense budget,
you seem to be saying it'll be Clinton plus $45 billion. Did I
hear you right?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President proposed increasing defense
spending by $45 billion during the course of the campaign above
Q: Right. And the question was, will that be on top
of what Clinton proposed? And you seem to be saying --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, above baseline. We will begin,
of course, with this year's budget submission being a new
submission, baseline will be the marker.
Q: So it would be this year plus $45 billion?
MR. FLEISCHER: If that's baseline, that's correct.
Q: Ari, there are all kinds of reports that the
administration is worried from violence after the Israeli
elections. How is the administration going to deal with the
situation in the Middle East immediately after the elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States will remain engaged in the
peace process and being a helpful partner to secure peace in the
region, and will continue to maintain the position of any agreement
that is reached by -- the parties in the Middle East, we will
Q: Given the President's efforts to change the tone of
politics in Washington, was he at all disappointed with the tone of
Terry McAuliffe's acceptance speech at the DNC on the weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would have to say that I thought
those remarks were disappointing. I think that it is incumbent
on all people and all parties, even those who occupy the party
posts, which are normally the most vociferous, to recognize that a
new beginning is starting here in Washington.
There is an old Washington, and that old Washington is often
marked by rancor and division and partisanship, which leads to
gridlock. President Bush is endeavoring to create a new
Washington, and that new Washington should be marked, in the
President's opinion, by principled disagreements and by
civility. And that extends even to the heads of the
Q: He thought his remarks were not principled and were
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that continuing to question
the legitimacy of an election that I'm not certain that even the
Democrats in the Congress would share that point of view is not a
wise way to begin tenure.
Q: Is it uncivil or unprincipled?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I just think again it's
disappointing. Our nation has spoken and President Bush is the
Q: Can you guarantee that the RNC Chairman will not engage
in any such partisan remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I said there is a role to be
played, and each of the party leaders does occupy the position to be
the most voluable in politics, which is proper. And that's
But again, the new Washington the President is seeking to create
is going to try to tone that down, to create more civility and less
rancor. It will happen. It will happen from all parties, from
time to time. We can't stop it. What we can try to do is
diminish it. And the President addressed this question,
frankly, in his National Prayer Breakfast remarks, when he talked
about civility. And he said it in those remarks last Thursday
that we can't make it go away overnight. There are many things
we can't ever make it go away. But we can try to do less of
Q: Sorry, another question on the tax cut. In his
remarks a couple of weeks ago, Chairman Greenspan made a special
point of urging members of the Finance Committee to try to create
some kind of mechanism for a trigger that would suspend tax cuts if
these extraordinary surplus projections did not come to pass.
Will there be anything in the legislation that the President sends
to Capitol Hill on Thursday on that topic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you that Chairman Greenspan's
remarks applied to tax cuts and spending. That's what he
Q: But he said specifically suspend a tax cut.
MR. FLEISCHER: He said for both spending and tax
cuts. I think the point he was making is, this town has often
spent money, and he prefers to see a trigger, as he said, on
that. He did say that applied to tax cuts as well. But
it applied both ways.
But the President's position is that is important to enact tax
cuts, to enact tax cuts based on the best, most accurate, reliable
forecasts that we have. And that's where his focus will
Q: Did the President communicate to the RNC Chairman
Gilmore his desire to reduce his rancor? I mean, did he
personally express that, because the RNC did take a leading role
during the Clinton administration.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's hardly anybody in this town
who hasn't heard the President say that. And I would remind
you at a fundraiser last year, at the Armory here in Washington,
with some of the most influential Republicans in town, the President
delivered those remarks too, and told everybody we need to tone that
down. That's a message -- he's not going to shy away from
saying that to Democrats or Republicans.
At the Republican retreat, he had similar words, frankly, that
dealt with the nomination of Senator Ashcroft to Attorney
General. The President said to the Republicans at the joint
House-Senate retreat that we should move beyond this, that he knows
that there are many Republicans who are angry with the Democrats for
the manner in which they treated this nominee. And he said, we
should have no incriminations. We should move forward. And
it's going to take time. It will still happen. Both
sides -- there will be instances where people say things.
And that is part of Washington. And we're not going to be
able to make it go away over night. But I do think it begins
with the manner in which the White House and White House officials
comport themselves, and I do think you're seeing it start to
spread. Hopefully it will be contagious, and we'll see how far
we can take them.
Q: There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not
some of the gifts that the Clintons took from the White House were
intended for the White House itself or for the Clintons themselves.
What is the White House doing to try to resolve this
confusion? The President said he'll wait to see the facts as
they come out. Who is collecting those facts and when will
they come out, and what is the White House position on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did address that earlier
today. I would refer you to his remarks. I know that the
former President's staff has been in touch with the Curator's Office
here and I know that the Curator's Office will be helpful in trying
to help the former President to ascertain what it is they need.
Q: Is the Curator's Office empowered by you or someone at
the White House to answer questions? Because when we call and
ask and they refer you to your office, who refers us back to the
MR. FLEISCHER: We will try to fix that infinite loop.
We will try to be helpful to you on that.
Q: Ari, you talked about the possible missile attacks by
rogue states in the context of a national missile defense. Is
North Korea one of those rogue states you have in mind? Does
this administration still call North Korea a rogue states?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to go down and start
delineating states. The President's concern is general.
Q: There has been a certain amount of vagueness to some of
the proposals that you guys have --
MR. FLEISCHER: A certain amount of what?
MR. FLEISCHER: Vagueness?
Q: There hasn't been specific legislative language attached
to them, necessarily. And I was wondering if what you are
sending up on Thursday is an actual bill or it's just a series of
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you that, seldom does the
President send up to the Hill bill language. That is
traditionally the job of the Congress to take proposals and put them
into legislative language with all the subsections and all the
little symbols that very few people understand what they mean.
Presidents traditionally send up detailed specifics, which is
what we did on the education proposal the President made. It
was very detailed; and on the faith-based proposal the President
made. And that is the pattern we will continue; you will see
that on Thursday. And there will be a lot of specificity to
But legislative bill language? No, we're not going to do
Q: Yesterday, Secretary Powell said that he considered AIDS
to be a national security issue and concern, presumably from the
foreign policy aspect. Has the President decided to either
raise or lower the AIDS budget for developing countries such as
Africa, or even domestically, compared to the Clinton budget?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a line item that will get
worked out much closer to submission of the actual line items in
April. That was an issue that the President had again himself
brought up in the meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and he
discussed the problem of AIDS. In that case, he brought up the
problem of AIDS in regard to Africa and some of the successful AIDS
programs that are under way in that continent.
Q: Does he plan to name an AIDS coordinator, a post that's
existed in previous administrations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am still trying to review the information
about that office, as well as a couple other offices. We
talked about that before. I have nothing further yet.
Q: How much flexibility will the White House have toward
possibly increasing the size of the tax cut and at what point would
the tax cut become so large that it would either be economically
harmful or would be fiscally irresponsible?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the process begins this week
when the President sends his plan up to Congress and we are going to
focus on fighting for that proposal that the President is going to
make. I think that might be a question to ask sometime down
the road if it comes to that point. You know, perhaps, the
Congress will adhere very closely to what the President has
Q: Not that you have even sent the plan up to the Hill yet
but you still haven't fully answered where the transition costs for
privatizing Social Security is going to come from in all of
this. You said general revenue, but --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should wait until we move
forward on Social Security.
Q: Where do you get the extra $1 trillion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's wait until we move forward on Social
Q: Ari, the Canadians have expressed some opposition to the
missile defense plan, and also to drilling in Alaska. Are
those going to be the primary topics of the President's meeting with
Chretien this evening? Or is he going to steer the
conversation more towards expanding free trade?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the meeting is an early opportunity
for them to get to know each other, a two world leaders'
get-acquainted session. You will have a readout later tonight, and
so you'll have some indications about the types of things that were
discussed, so I don't want to preview that. But I think trade
is very important with Canada, the upcoming Summit of the Americas,
which will be in Quebec from April 20th to 22nd. Surely I
think -- I would advise you to wait and then you'll get a readout
tonight, and have a better report.
Q: What do you say to the Canadian officials who say they
felt kind of slighted that he was traveling to Mexico first?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the Canadian government is
very pleased that Prime Minister Chretien will be here for this
first visit. And frankly, all our discussions with the
Canadians have been nothing but positive, and the President looks
forward to the meeting tonight.
Q: On the slight front, why isn't Prime Minister Chretien
staying at Blair House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information on that.
It's a working visit.
Q: What time is the readout?
Q: That does --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think for state visits they typically will
stay there. For working visits there is a lot more variety
Q: -- extended that courtesy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you do; for working visits, it's of
a different nature.
Q: This is a working visit?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's my understanding.
Q: What time is the readout?
MR. FLEISCHER: The readout will be after dinner, so it all
depends on how fast they eat their food. So I think -- my best
estimate for you is somewhere between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Q: It's not a follow-up to some of the previous questions
-- MR. FLEISCHER: That's okay, you can have an original.
Q: Okay. It's quite original, I hope. Since
last week, Senator Feingold offered an olive branch by voting for
Senator Ashcroft; can we expect that negotiations on campaign
finance will speed up a bit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President has made his
position clear, where he stands on campaign finance reform.
And he's had a very good meeting, as you know, with Senator McCain
to discuss that. And we'll just continue to monitor events on
the Hill as they warrant, and move forward to try to get campaign
finance reform enacted into law.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
(END -- 1:50 P.M. EST)
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