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Special Event

Ari Fleischer Discusses Presidential Agenda

Aired February 9, 2001 - 2:20 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to the White House and to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer for his daily afternoon briefing.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... White house Press Room. I have nothing prepared to open with. I would like, at the very end, to give you the schedule for the president for the upcoming week. And as an extra added bonus, I'll go a tiny bit into even the week following that. But until then I'm all yours.

QUESTION: The president today talked about racial profiling. First of all, a lot of that data was collected by the Clinton administration. Do you plan to dip back into anything they collected? And what does he hope to accomplish?

FLEISCHER: I think the president's going to listen to a number of parties on the question of how to find a solution to a problem that he is very concerned about, as he indicated earlier today. We'll be listening to various people in different communities who are affected by racial profiling, we're going to be listening to law enforcement authorities and trying to move forward on some type of understanding about what can be done that's productive.

QUESTION: Do you know how soon he'll have a decision made...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: There's no timetable set.

QUESTION: Is there any meeting, Ari, with the International Association of Chiefs of Police? I think they're pushing for some type of national commission to look into racial profiling, other issues, and they've wanted a meeting with the White House.

FLEISCHER: I believe...

STAFF: It's not yet scheduled.

FLEISCHER: Not yet scheduled. They've requested a meeting with White House staff.

QUESTION: In the campaign the now president referred often to a waitress who earned $22,000 a year. Now when he refers to what seems to be that same person she earns $25,000 a year. The people in the House...

FLEISCHER: He's raising incomes for American people since he was elected, obviously.

QUESTION: In addition to that, the Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee are pointing out that they think that that woman's salary had to be raised in order for her to get anything out of this tax proposal.

Is that, indeed, why the example has been changed?

FLEISCHER: Here's what the president during the campaign, and this is why he brought it up. If you are earning $22,000 a year in this country and you have a couple kids, as a result of the way the Earned Income Tax Credit phases out, which is a program that helps low-income working people with children, principally, to receive extra help from the federal government -- it's predominately a redistributive program -- you start to lose your Earned Income Tax Credit as you make more money, plus you're in the 15 percent tax bracket, which means you're paying taxes at a higher rate than the president believes you should.

The marginal tax rate imposed on that person is higher than the marginal tax rate imposed on somebody who makes $220,000 a year. In other words, if you make only $22,000 a year, for every dollar of pay raise you get from your employer, the government snatches more of it away from you than somebody who makes $220,000 a year who gets a dollar pay raise. The amount the government takes from that upper- income person is less than it is for that lower-income person. And that's a reflection of a system that has marginal income-tax rates.

So the president's concern was that we need to help that person so they can make into the middle class. And that's the purpose of the president's proposal. And the way the president's proposal works, is that a family making $22,000 a year with a couple kids actually would not start to get taxed until they made about $31,000.

In other words, they could have a multi-thousand dollar raise without the government snatching that money away from them. And that's how he believes we can help people get into the middle class.

QUESTION: Ari, $25,000 is a better example because that person actually pays taxes.

FLEISCHER: That person would receive a tax cut.

QUESTION: Ari, you said that the president is considering reducing, unilaterally, America's nuclear arsenal. If so, is that an attempt to ease the opposition from the NATO countries to the national missile defense? And is it also to try to convince Russia to allow -- or not to oppose, if you will, the modification or scrapping of the ABM Treaty?

FLEISCHER: It's a reaffirmation of what the president announced in a very public event in May of 2000 in a speech at the National Press Club, where he reflected on the possibility of the United States setting its nuclear levels of deterrence at a level that we would set, not as a result of treaties, but as a result of a decision that the United States makes, that that is the level appropriate to protect our national defenses. I refer you to his remarks from that speech.

QUESTION: A follow-up please. You say "considering" -- you used the word "considering," but is there a stronger word you'd like to use? Is it almost a done deal that he's going to reduce?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's what the president said, that we should consider that, and we should do in consultation with our allies.

QUESTION: One of the other things he said during the campaign to veterans' groups and others, was that help is on the way for the military.

FLEISCHER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: He criticized the Clinton administration's handling of military readiness.

And now that he's saying he's not going to propose any more spending than President Clinton has proposed, there are those on Capitol Hill and some in the Pentagon talking to reporters who feel misled. Are they wrong?

FLEISCHER: The president said help is on the way, and help is on the way. And the help will be delivered in the manner exactly as the president said during the campaign.

There will be a pay raise above and beyond the pay raise that was provided in the previous administration. That's additional spending beyond what President Clinton proposed for the military. There will be improvements in housing and as well, pending the review that is underway per the president's direction to the secretary of defense, additional help will be on the way.

And that's exactly what the president laid out in the campaign, and we're very pleased with the reaction to it. And I think what you're seeing here is a president who not only does what he promised to do during the campaign, but he's going to make big-picture, big- spending decisions in a careful, thoughtful way; and Secretary Rumsfeld is leading that effort to help.

QUESTION: Are you pleased with the reaction of members -- hawkish members of Congress and members and people in the Pentagon who want more money now? And they say that if they don't get it now, the military will not be ready as the president promised it would be.

FLEISCHER: And let me remind you that an appropriation bill was recently signed into law just a couple months ago. And one of the items that the president wants to bring to Washington is fiscal discipline, and that is another reason why he's talked about no supplemental immediately. QUESTION: So what would you say to those members and others in the defense community who feel that there was, perhaps, a wink and a nod from a Republican about to take office that would take care of the military's immediate needs?

FLEISCHER: I think that many of them paid very close attention to the speech he gave at the Citadel, where he announced, in September of 1999, that this is exactly what he would do, and he's doing it. And I think the Pentagon will be very pleased to have a commander in chief who does exactly as he says.

QUESTION: Some of them apparently weren't paying attention.

FLEISCHER: Kelly?

QUESTION: But, Ari, what if circumstances are different? And what if the Pentagon now is finding itself $5 billion to $7 billion short, and if it doesn't get that money now it's saying it has to cut flying hours or training exercises? So what if it makes a compelling case to the White House that it needs this money or it's going to have to take steps A, B and C, what would you say?

FLEISCHER: The president has discussed this with the secretary of defense; and the secretary of defense, of course, has discussed with his top commanders and there's no disagreement.

QUESTION: No disagreement in the sense that the commanders say they don't need this money?

FLEISCHER: The commanders understand the president's position. He's made it clear. He has said no immediate supplemental.

QUESTION: How long -- just one second -- I'm sorry -- how long an assessment of this review before any additional funds could be directed to the Pentagon?

FLEISCHER: We'll inform you as events warrant.

QUESTION: Ari, "The Washington Times" quotes Maryland's Senator Paul Sarbanes on Tuesday when he told a reception for businesswomen at the Capitol that he told Senator Mikulski, quote, "You're the first woman elected to Senate in your own right, in other words, not on the body of your dead husband." And my question is, does the president, as a gentleman who is always gracious to ladies, believe Senator Carnahan deserves an apology from Senator Sarbanes or not?

FLEISCHER: That is the first I've heard of such a statement. And I don't think...

QUESTION: It was quoted yesterday in "The Washington Times."

FLEISCHER: I don't see the president getting involved.

QUESTION: Oh, but you're a gentleman, Ari. Well, surely you believe the senator...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... don't you believe he should apologize? Really, Ari, you're a gentleman.

FLEISCHER: Well, if the president won't get involved, I certainly won't.

Jim Angle.

QUESTION: Actually, that was my question.

FRAZIER: We're going to step away from the White House briefing now that it seems to be turning to matters of lesser import.

But just a quick review: they spent some time talking about details of the proposal to cut personal income taxes; seems to be a lot of confusion on the part of the White House press corp there. Also there was a discussion of the president's earlier call to consider reducing the number of nuclear weapons that are armed and ready in the United States; and there was some discussion of a pay raise for members of the armed forces, better housing for them and other help that should be on the way, and which will be announced next week as part of defense week on the part of the Bush administration.

So that's the latest from Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary.

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