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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Briefing

Aired January 6, 2003 - 12:37   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary is over briefing reporters at the White House right now. Let's listen in.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Happy New Year to everybody.

The president began his day with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Then he had a series of policy briefings. And this afternoon the president will look forward to a Cabinet meeting, where the president will discuss with members of his Cabinet his agenda for the year. The president is going to focus on economic growth, making America a more compassionate country, providing for the security of our nation abroad and on the home front.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the president deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world?

FLEISCHER: Well...

QUESTION: And I have a follow-up.

FLEISCHER: ... I referred specifically to a horrible terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds.

And the president, as he said in a statement yesterday, "deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents, in Israel."

QUESTION: My follow up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

FLEISCHER: The question is, how to protect Americans and our allies and friends from a country...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... made the (OFF-MIKE) or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

FLEISCHER: I guess you've forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then.

QUESTION: Is this a revenge, 11 years of revenge?

FLEISCHER: I think you know very well that the president's position is that he wants to avert war, and that the president has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the president attack innocent Iraqi lives?

FLEISCHER: The president wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region and make certain that American lives are not lost.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... a threat to us?

FLEISCHER: There is no question that the president thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

QUESTION: The Iraqi people?

FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Actually, the president has made it very clear that he has no dispute with the people of Iraq.

That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question that the people of Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

FLEISCHER: If you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that's been what history has shown.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Without going into details, Senator McCain says that he thinks the president's economic plan should have some benefit for the middle-class (OFF-MIKE) that it doesn't appear to be much for the middle-class, mainly geared toward higher-income Americans. Can you give us any idea -- if you don't want to go into any details -- give us an idea of what the percentage of the stimulus package will go to middle-class...

FLEISCHER: The president very much looks forward to traveling to traveling to Chicago tomorrow to announce an economic growth plan for all Americans. The president's plan will encourage consumer spending. It will promote investment throughout our country and in the business community and small business and will also help the unemployed. Specifically, under the president's proposal to provide tax relief, 92 million taxpayers will receive on average a tax cut of $1,083 in 2003; 46 million married couples will receive average tax cuts of $1,716; 34 million families with children will benefit from an average tax cut of $1,473; and 13 million elderly taxpayers would receive an average tax cut of $1,384.

Final statistic, I'm happy to give you, is a typical family of four with two earners making $39,000 in income will receive a total of $1,100 in tax relief under the plan.

So the president's plan is a plan that helps all Americans. It helps middle-income Americans. It helps the economy get going and growing again. And it's a plan the president looks forward to discussing.

QUESTION: Are those figures from the plan that was passed last year or the one he's going to announce tomorrow?

FLEISCHER: No, this is from the plan the prescient will announce tomorrow.

QUESTION: These figures are from the one announced tomorrow?

FLEISCHER: Correct.

QUESTION: What's the percentage of the amount of money, $600 billion or whatever it is, that's going to go to pay for tax cuts, what percentage of that will go to middle-class Americans?

FLEISCHER: I'll try to have additional numbers tomorrow, but as you can see from the numbers, it's focused at the majority of the American income tax payers, who are middle class.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, on the $600 billion we're looking at, according to the CBO numbers, I think, an expected deficit of $250 billion in fiscal year 2003.

I understand your logic that these tax cuts will need to grow, and that will do away with budget deficits. But don't you have to couple that with spending cuts and how is the administration going to do that given the expense of homeland security and a possible war with Iraq?

FLEISCHER: The president approaches is that to create surpluses in our country and in our government's coffers is growth, that without growth, there are deficits. In times of growth, we have surpluses, and that's what history has shown. And so the current deficit was caused as the result of the recession, where the slow-down began in the summer of 2000, and then we went into recession as an economy in 2001. And we are now beginning to emerge from the recession.

The president wants to make certain that the people have suffered from the biggest deficits in our society are the people who don't have a job. And he wants to put a plan in place to help give a boost to the economy to give a boost to business and investment, to give a boost to the American taxpayers, so that more jobs are created so that people can go about earning an income and feeding their families.

That's where the president's focus is, and that's why this plan is addressed to giving a short-term base to the economy, helping the unemployed, as well as putting the fundamentals in place for a longer- term sustainable of growth. And that (OFF-MIKE) will help return to a matter of surpluses.

QUESTION: Are you factoring in, when you're doing these numbers, the cost of a possible war with Iraq?

FLEISCHER: I'm talking about the tax cut itself. That's what your question is addressed to.

QUESTION: Right. But ultimately -- I mean, you hope not to get in the best situation down the road, presumably, right?

FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, anything dealing with Iraq is such a hypothetical I'm not in a position to address what a potential cost could or could not be. But regardless of any decisions that are made on Iraq, the economy needs a boost, and that's why the president's going to go to Chicago tomorrow, separate and apart from anything dealing with Iraq, to announce a plan to give the economy a boost.

QUESTION: Will you also call for cuts in spending, though, in addition to this?

FLEISCHER: The president is going to continue to ask Congress to hold the line on spending. The president has announced a series of priorities which involve increases in spending for education, increases in spending for homeland security, to fight bioterrorism, to provide more money for first responders. All of those are the priorities that the president has announced that he'll continue to work with the Congress on.

And the Congress, as you know, be taking up the appropriation bill that was undone from the last Congress in the next two weeks. They've already agreed on an aggregate cap of $750 billion for all domestic discretionary spending for the 11 remaining appropriation bills. So the president is encouraged by the fact that their have already agreed to a cap that the administration supports for the upcoming appropriation cycle for 2003.

QUESTION: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said earlier today that the way he sees it, war with Iraq is less likely now that it was. Does the White House agree with that assessment?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president, as he said over the holidays, remains very hopeful that peace can be pursued as a result of some of the decisions Saddam Hussein has yet to make. And this is about disarmament, and that's why the inspectors are there. They are going about their jobs and doing their work. And the president continues to hope that war can be averted.

QUESTION: So the buildup that we're witnessing now, particularly the departure of the hospital ship Comfort today, is that posturing or is that serious? FLEISCHER: No, I think the president has been very serious, and hopefully Saddam Hussein will get the message that the world community, through the United Nations, has called on Saddam Hussein to disarm.

And as the president said, he will either disarm or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him. That's a serious message. It's not a bluff. And perhaps as a result of it being such a serious message, Saddam Hussein will indeed get that message and disarm peacefully -- Terry.

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)

BLITZER: We'll get back to that shortly, but let's now go back to the White House and Ari Fleischer's press briefing.

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. You'll have to show up at the speech tomorrow to find out what the president is cutting.

QUESTION: So you dispute the notion that cutting taxes on dividends of these 35 million Americans with dividend income, that most of them are well-to-do or better off or well-above the average, and that what you're really doing is helping rich...

FLEISCHER: Actually, when you look at the statistics, more than half the money from dividend taxation goes to seniors.

QUESTION: Rich seniors.

FLEISCHER: Well, if you believe that all 10 million seniors I just referenced are rich then you believe that almost everybody in America is rich.

The president would like to see a nation in which more and more people have opportunities to become successful, and that's one of the reasons he feels so strongly that it is wrong to tax people's future, that it is wrong to tax people's savings.

QUESTION: OK, one quickly on Iraq. You said this morning the work of the inspectors needs to continue.

FLEISCHER: Correct.

QUESTION: For how long?

FLEISCHER: The president has not put a period of time on there. The president wants to continue to work with the international community to make certain that the inspectors can do their job, and that requires the compliance of Iraq with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Saddam Hussein's statements where he accused the weapons inspectors of carrying out pure intelligence work is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Iraq still has not shown signs that it will disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. QUESTION: You mentioned before that about 35 million Americans receive dividend income. The proposal, as we understand it, is going to allocate something like $300 billion over 10 years to eliminating taxation of dividends.

Why couldn't $300 billion be put to better use across a much wider array of Americans rather than just those 35 million who receive dividend income, never mind that only a small portion of them get a large amount?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president looks forward to having many announcements that he'll be making, not only what you're surmising the president will describe tomorrow on the dividend side of the ledger. But all income tax payers pay income taxes, and the president looks forward to addressing a series of ideas tomorrow that will help lower taxes for all Americans, give a boost to the economy, give a boost to growth.

But keep in mind what I said. The president does not think it is right to tax savings and to penalize people who save and the president does not think it's right to penalize people who plan for their future.

QUESTION: Do you consider this to be a stimulus plan, or is that not a word...

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary speaking on a wide range of issues, including tomorrow's major speech by the president, a $600 billion tax cut proposal including eliminating taxes on dividends. Ari Fleischer making the case that a lot of the benefits from this $600 billion package will go to the middle class, responding to some criticism over the weekend from Senator John McCain as well as many Democrats who are saying this tax cut proposal front loaded to benefit largely the wealthiest of Americans. We'll be hearing a lot more about this proposal over the next 24 hours or so.

We also heard Ari Fleischer respond directly to the president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, saying the Iraqis have not complied and also insisting the president is not posturing with all of these troop deployments, but is deadly serious when it comes to disarming Iraq.

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