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President Clinton Holds News Conference on GOP Spending Bill

Aired October 27, 2000 - 1:10 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And now the president.



Don't tell anybody I didn't know what time it was.


I would like to say a few words about the budget, the progress we have made and the work still to be done in this Congress.

The appropriations bills we pass every year do a lot more than keep our government running; they tell us something very basic about our priorities as a nation.

There's no great secret to getting things done around here. When we put progress over partisanship, we get results. When we work together, we get results.

For example, I just signed a very fine VA-HUD appropriations bill, along with the energy and water appropriations bill. It includes some impressive advances for the American people: 79,000 housing vouchers to help people move from welfare to work; more support for housing for the elderly and disabled; investment for our economic empowerment agenda that the vice president has led, including empowerment zones and community development banks; more funds for AmeriCorps; funds for climate change research and technology in the Energy Department; funds to support our space program; the largest increase ever in the Veterans Administration and in the National Science Foundation, something that is critically important to our future; and adequate funding for FEMA to meet our national emergencies.

The energy and water bill also contains funds for climate change technology and research in solar and renewable energies.

These things will have a direct, positive impact on our long-term energy future, and help us to become less dependent on and less vulnerable to supply interruptions and price explosions in oil. This is very, very important. Now, I could say the same thing about the Interior bill I signed the other day, which many of you were here, the largest appropriation for land preservation ever in our country's history, for our Lands Legacy Initiative. And the foreign operations bill, which the Congress has passed in a completely bipartisan way, funds the debt relief initiative for the poorest countries in the world, which is one of the most significant achievements in the international arena in years and years for the United States, and I believe for years to come will provide a foundation upon which my successors, whoever they are, will build to help advance America's interest and build a more peaceful world.

So we can do things that really matter around here, even though we have differences. Do I agree with every little thing in these bills? No, I do not. Did I get everything I wanted in these bills? I did not.

But we all worked together and we had some remarkable successes.

Still, here we are, almost a month past the end of the fiscal year, and there is still some very vital work to be done by Congress.

And I have the feeling that the congressional majority has not yet decided whether to wrap up with more progress or score partisan points and leave town. And that would leave vital national needs unmet.

Two days ago, I made a good faith offer to the Republican leadership. I said, "Let's work together to meet our most pressing outstanding priorities and pass responsible tax relief for middle class families and small businesses."

The answer I got was disappointing. Instead of meeting us on common ground, instead of working with the White House or congressional Democrats, the Republican leadership closed its doors to compromise -- literally closed the doors to compromise. They crafted their own partisan tax package and passed it last night on a party line vote.

The Republican tax package fails to meet the test of fairness to our children, our seniors, or the millions of Americans without health care coverage.

If it reaches my desk in its present form, I will have no choice but to veto it.

Congress has to get back to work on this. So let me be clear about my concerns.

First, the bill is unfair to children. We can't expect to lift them up if we put them in schools that are falling down. That's why I propose to repair old and crumbling schools and build new ones. Unfortunately, the majority's inefficient tax incentives help only a few. And ironically, most of the help would go to the schools and school districts that need it the least. This bill is unfair to hospitals, to community providers and to patients. It is a massive giveaway to the HMOs, tens of billions of dollars at the expense of teaching and rural hospitals, home health agencies and other community providers who really need the help.

And even though they're spending the Medicare resources, their plan allows the HMOs to take the money and then abandon the Medicare patients, which is the alleged pretext for giving them so much of this money, that they've been dropping people from their Medicare program, especially in the rural areas of our country, over the last couple of years.

Now, we have to make improvements in the Medicare and Medicaid allocations here. At the same time, the majority is blocking bipartisan proposals to extend health care coverage for children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants, or to expand coverage for children with disabilities.

Just an hour ago, I met here at the White House with a group of Americans with disabilities, who lead various groups across our nation. They have a vital interest in adequate funding for home- and community-based services in this Medicare-Medicaid allocation bill, a need that the Republican bill grossly short-changes, because it disproportionately gives the money to the HMOs.

The priorities of this leadership bill do not reflect the priorities and needs of the American people.

The bill is unfair to seniors. The tax package the House passed last night abandons my bipartisan approach to providing significant long-term care relief for families' long-term care costs. It also fails to address the lack of pension coverage for more than 70 million hard-working Americans.

So again, I ask Congress, send me a tax bill that helps us build new schools and repair old ones; a bill that helps our workers -- all of them -- save for retirement; a bill that expands long-term health care coverage for Americans who need it. A fairer tax bill.

I also want to raise the minimum wage, but not with the Republican bill that stakes the deck against American workers. The leadership should not play games with the minimum wage.

They should stop holding it hostage to tax breaks for special interests, stand up for working Americans and send me a bill I can sign. We can do that and still have appropriate small business tax relief.

There's more we should do and some more things we must do. We certainly should pass the voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit and a real patients' bill of rights. And we must pass Fairness for Latino immigrants. We have a hate crimes legislation that we ought to pass. And they've had a bill there that has enormous bipartisan support throughout the country to strength the equal pay laws for women. Again, I say, there's no secret to getting things done: We have to work together. Look at the VA-HUD bill I just signed, the energy and water bill. Look at the interior bill. Look at the foreign operations bill. This Congress has done some good things.

But whenever the Republicans shut the Democrats and the White House out and go behind closed door and try to make an agreement among themselves for the benefit of the elements in the right-wing of their caucus, we wind up with a bill that is unacceptable to the American people.

So, I'm here. I'm prepared to keep working. But as we celebrate these good days, we ought to finish the business of the public in the right way.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the leadership says it's you that's playing politics, trying to help the vice president and the Democrats who are running.

CLINTON: Well, look at the facts. The problem with that charge is it doesn't stand up to the facts. I have signed every appropriations bill that has been the product of a bipartisan process, every single one.

The only one we don't have now is the Labor-HHS bill, which contains the education budget of the country, which is the most important one. But we're making real progress there. If you notice -- even though it hasn't passed, and it should have passed -- I didn't say a word of criticism in my remarks about it because we're continuing to work together in a bipartisan fashion.

What happened with this Commerce-State-Justice bill, on the immigration issues and the other issues, and this tax bill, is that the Republicans basically kicked the Democrats and the White House out of the room. And they came up with a bill and then they called us and said, "Now, we took care of this, that or the other concern of yours. Now you guys just be cooperative and sign off on what we have decided to do. The leadership has decided this is the only bill we can get past our right-wing, and you'll just have to take it."

Well, that's not the way to go. I have never tried to play politics with his in this year -- look, I bragged on them today. Every time we do something in a bipartisan way, I try to give credit where credit is due. I have bent over backwards for eight years here to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but I will not bend over backwards to be run over, not because of me or the Democrats in Congress, but because it's not good for the American people.

Now, look, we just have these two appropriations bills, and we have the tax legislation, and we have to put some money back into health care, and we can do this. But we're going to have to do it together. We can't just, you know -- we can't have our Republican friends say, "We're having a really tough time getting agreement within our caucus, so you guys have to go away. And we'll go in our caucus, and we'll try to fight it out with each other. And whatever we can live with by ourselves, the rest of you got to take."

Now that is what happened. That is the fact.

And it is true that the bills are not as awful as they once were. It is true that they took some things out. But the bills are not what they would be if they were like all the other appropriations bills, the products of a genuine bipartisan negotiation.

That's all I'm asking for. That's all I've ever asked for.

And, like I said, in these bills that I signed today, there are hundreds -- literally hundreds -- of projects that the members wanted that I did not support. They cut back on the investment on some things that I thought were important.

But when you sit down and negotiate with people, you have a good faith obligation to try to come to agreement. We honored that, and we got the agreement. And I'm very, very pleased with these bills.

But the ones that are still out there, they do more harm than good, and we need to clean them up. And we need to do it in a hurry so they can get out of town and go on about their business.


QUESTION: ... 80 to 90 percent of what you wanted and what you're asking for, and that no president should expect to get 100 percent...

CLINTON: Well, I agree nobody should expect to get 100 percent, but I don't agree that it's 80 to 90 percent. I explained what I thought was the matter with it. And it's just not, that's not a -- I do not believe that is an accurate characterization of the tax bill.

And, again, I say, you know, this is -- whenever I'm involved in a peace process around the world, I hear the same sort of thing. When people aren't talking to each other, they say, "Well, why don't they like this? This is more or less what they've asked for."

And it's very important that you understand what happened. On these bills, unlike the other work we have done, they sent the Democrats and the White House out of the room because they were having trouble agreeing among themselves. Once they made an agreement among themselves, and made some changes based on objections we had raised, they said, "Well, why aren't you happy?"

And again, I would say, all we need -- if we get a negotiation, we'll have a compromise bill that will be an honorable compromise. But you all need to -- you all know this is so, because you follow this.

The way these bills were produced, the tax bill and the Commerce- State-Justice appropriation, was different from the way all the other bills were produced.

Today, we had Senator Mikulski in here, a Democrat from Maryland, Congressman Walsh, a Republican from New York, in here, talking about what they did together on the VA-HUD bill. That's the way we need to get this done.

QUESTION: Four more Palestinians died this morning in clashes with Israeli troops. Are you trying even harder now to try to arrange separate meetings with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat? Or do you think violence still has to stop before there's even any point in bringing them here?

CLINTON: Well, I think there has to be a much lower level of violence before they could met together and talk about the long-term prospects for peace.

I worked on this for several hours yesterday, and we are, obviously, keeping up with it. And I'm very disturbed about today, because you actually two or three good days where there was very little violence.

And we're trying to get to the, you know, bottom in seeing what happened and what, if anything, we can do to undermine the causes of today's violence so that it won't recur. But we've got to get the level of violence down before there can be a resumption of negotiations.

In terms of who comes here when, that is still subject to discussion. We're talking to the Israelis, we're talking to the Palestinians, we're talking with others around the world.

Look, I'm working really hard on this. I'm frustrated. I'm just as frustrated as you are, and it's heart-breaking. We've just got to try to get a hold of it, but don't lose sight of the fact that we had three pretty good days.

And I would say to the people in the region not to lose sight of the fact that we did. And tomorrow needs to be a good day, not a bad day, because of what happened today.


QUESTION: ... on this budget battle. After all, Governor Bush has won largely on the premise that he can get things done. He's a Washington outsider. He can come here and break gridlock. Now you're threatening to veto.

CLINTON: Well, first of all, let's have a little reality therapy here. You know, I said that I would do that, and I have. You know, I kept waiting for someone to point out -- well, some of you to point out when they kept saying, "The partisanship is terrible in Washington and nothing ever gets done."

Let me just point out: Since they came in, it is true that they shut the government, once, down, because I wouldn't agree to abolish the Department of Education and agree to the biggest Medicare cost increases on recipients in history and the biggest education and environmental cuts in history.

But when that was over, look what's happened: We had a bipartisan welfare reform bill that passed with big majorities in both houses, or both parties. We had a bipartisan balanced budget bill that passed with big majorities in both houses and both parties, including the Children's Health Insurance Program, the biggest increase in children's health in 35 years.

We had a bipartisan Telecommunications Act that provided the E- rate that has taken us to 95 percent of our schools now hooked up to the Internet, created thousands and thousands of businesses, hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

We've had 100,000 police. We had 100,000 teachers. We've gone from zero to serving 800,000 kids in after-school programs.

All done in an entirely bipartisan way.

I just went over this breathtaking litany of things that were done at the end of this negotiation process in a purely bipartisan way.

Now, the only thing I have objected to is the unipartisan, if you will, the single-party production of a tax bill and one appropriations bill. That's it.

And I don't think that party should seek to -- should be able to benefit from their failure at bipartisanship.

Let me just give you another example.

We have a bipartisan majority in this Congress, in both houses, for hate crimes, for a good school construction bill, for a minimum wage increase, for a patients' bill of rights, for campaign finance reform.

Now, it's not bipartisanship that is keeping those bills from passing. It is the leadership of the other party in the Congress blocking a bipartisan majority.

I fail to see how you could argue that the voters ought to reward people for creating the problem that they are complaining about. I think that's a pretty hard sell.

Yes, sir? Go ahead. This gentleman's had his hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you. Critics of spending, of federal spending, identify the VA-HUD bill as an example of legislation that's so stuffed with pork that next year we may not have an on-budget surplus and whoever succeeds you in office won't have enough money for their proposals. And I'm wondering, how can you sign a bill like that, and say it's a fine bill when it has so many pork-barrel projects?

CLINTON: Well, the one thing about -- first of all, it does have too many pork-barrel projects for my taste, but that's what the Republicans wanted. And if I wanted to get the money to help people move from welfare to work and have housing, if I wanted to get the funds to help continue to help create jobs in poor areas that have been left out and left behind, and the other things that are in the VA-HUD -- they were also willing -- you know, they never agreed with me and the vice president on global warming before, and they came in and really supported our budget for research and development of new energy technologies.

I saw an article in the press today that estimated that this spending in this Congress would reduce the projected surplus by $900 billion. Let me just say, it will reduce the projected surplus, but I think it's by more like half that, and let me explain why: Because the one thing about these so-called pork-barrel projects -- and I've found in Washington and in life, a pork-barrel project is the other guy's project, it's never yours. If it's a project in your home town, it's the greatest thing you ever saw.

But because they're capital projects, they're not repeating. So the assumption that this erodes almost half the surplus is based on the fact that you would have this rate of increase every year to sustain that. And that does not have to be the case, because a lot of these projects are -- you know, they got the funding and they'll do the project and they don't have to repeat it next year. And that's the difference in that.

So I do think that the estimated surplus will have to be reduced, but I think that the assumption that these spending projects require us now to assume that spending will increase by this amount every year for a decade, I do not agree with that. And it shouldn't. And we shouldn't.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... Latin America and fighting drugs. The problem now in Peru in which the ex-head of intelligence went to Panama, has returned. President Fujimori's supposedly looking for him. And the political situation in Peru is really very perilous. What do you think is going to happen? And what can the United States and the OAS do to help it out?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm following it closely. And I don't know. I think what we have to do is to continue to support democracy and the rule of law in whatever way is appropriate. And I don't know that I can say much more than that right now.


WATERS: America's top politicians are having a conversation on CNN today. We just heard the president accuse the Republican leadership in the Congress of closing the doors to compromise, as the president put it, on an appropriations and tax law. The Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, is responding to the president's threat to a veto.

Let's listen to what the majority leader has to say.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There's so much rain and dark clouds here about how we don't have more cooperation. Look, next year, thank goodness, we're going to have a different president. Hopefully we'll have a better atmosphere around here. Maybe we can work together. I believe that George W. Bush believes that, means it, will reach out, try to bring us together. But here's -- there's a classic case where we try to accommodate the president of the United States and he writes this letter.


WATERS: The letter, the reference to the threat of a veto from the president of the United States.



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