White House Daily Briefing, January 23, 2004
|Friday January 23,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EST
And Secretary Baker was here to meet with Dr. Rice and brief her and update her on these discussions. The President invited him to come to lunch with him, and so they will be having lunch together here momentarily, and the President looks forward to receiving an update on this important priority in our efforts to help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful and prosperous future.
MR. McCLELLAN: Of the President's lunch?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Will he go to the stakeout after?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've updated you on the progress of these meetings earlier this week, and this effort is ongoing. Obviously, we'll be entering a phase here where now we will talk about specific commitments -- the specific amounts that constitute substantial debt reduction that many countries have committed to already.
Q: Isn't there a target in the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Is there a White House target?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we appreciate the commitments that have been made by a number of countries, both in -- well, in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to substantially reduce Iraq's debt burden. These countries recognize that that is important to helping the Iraqi people have a successful reconstruction and a brighter future. And as we've said, what constitutes "specific" is something that will be discussed in further negotiations as we move forward.
They also all -- these countries also agreed that this should happen this year, that it's important to move forward quickly in this respect. And we welcome those comments and we appreciate these countries' commitment to the successful reconstruction of Iraq.
Q: Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Someone has their hand up.
Q: I do.
MR. McCLELLAN: John. How are you?
Q: Good. On another aspect of Iraq, what does the White House have to say about these allegations that two employees of a Halliburton subsidiary may have taken as much as $6 million in illegal payments for awarding a contract to a Kuwaiti company to supply U.S. troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, there is -- the Department of Defense is looking into the issue of whether or not Halliburton over-charged the federal government and received payments beyond what they should have. The President has made it very clear that he expects the Department of Defense to get to the bottom of that matter, and that if there were -- if the federal government was over-charged, that Halliburton should repay that money. So that's the President's view. And I think that there is ongoing -- the Department of Defense has an ongoing investigation into this matter.
Q: But what about these new allegations or these new suggestions by Halliburton of a possible over-charge of $6 million and the admission by Halliburton that at least some of that may have been in illegal payments?
MR. McCLELLAN: From my understanding, I think that's all being looked into by the Department of Defense, and we expect the Department of Defense to get to the bottom of it. The President expects that if they were over-paid, that they should pay that money back. The President has made his views very clear.
Q: But is this an embarrassment for the President, who has made combating corporate corruption a central theme of this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President's views are very consistent, that if something like this happened, then he expects the Department of Defense to look into it fully, to get to the bottom of it, and make sure that money is repaid if there is something that was -- if Halliburton over-charged that money.
Q: What does it say about the whole reconstruction of Iraq? Democrats are now saying that it casts a cloud over it. They would like to -- Democrats in Congress would like to see Congress regain oversight of the awarding of these contracts.
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to talk to the Department of Defense about specific contracts. But I think there is obviously a lot of election year politicking going on. I recognize that.
Q: Can you just pass it off as politics?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Does every country that Baker has met with agree to reduce the debt substantially this year, within the year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Has everybody agreed to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we report on each individual country. In terms of -- those countries have put out statements, many of them saying that they -- that they are committed to substantially reducing Iraq's debt, and most of those same countries said that they agreed that it should happen this year. I didn't bring a list of every specific country and what they committed to. But, generally speaking, most countries did make that commitment.
Q: How about the United States? When are we going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already said that we're committed to joining in that effort to help the Iraqi people by substantially reducing debt.
Q: So you are going to do that this year, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're committed to moving forward on it, just like everybody else.
Q: But you're not committed to do it this year, necessarily?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I mean, we're having ongoing discussions with countries about what constitutes their specific amount. But, yes, let me make very clear, we are committed to doing our part, as well.
Q: When is he going to sign the omnibus bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, Helen. We will keep you posted on that as we do with any signing ceremonies or any signings of legislation. We'll keep you posted on that.
Q: You don't know of any date?
MR. McCLELLAN: Soon. I mean, this was something that was four months late in happening and obviously there is a process in terms of it actually getting delivered to the President for his signature. But he will sign it soon.
Q: Senate officials, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, confirmed that Republican staffers infiltrated Democratic computer material and released private Democratic documents regarding judiciary, and nominees primarily, to the media. Hatch has said he is mortified that this has happened. What does the White House think about that kind of behavior?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, one, I just don't know the specifics about this matter. Congress is obviously continuing to look into it and I expect Congress will act on it. It's something that happened in the United States Congress and it appears that they're working to address the matter.
Q: If you won't answer that, then can I ask another question? The Iranians now say that they're going to put on trial about a dozen jailed al Qaeda suspects. Is the United States encouraged by this? Does the United States, because of this, change its position that Iran harbored some al Qaeda people who came out of Afghanistan after the war there?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, our policy on Iran remains the same. Iran needs to stop supporting terrorism. And if any al Qaeda members that they have in their custody, they need to turn over to their home country, the country of origin. There are a number of countries that have approached Iran asking that al Qaeda rank and file members reportedly under detention be turned over to them, where indictments on terrorism charges are pending. And the Iranians have continued to ignore those requests.
But our position, for a long time, has been that Iran needs to stop supporting terrorism, and any al Qaeda members that they have in custody, they need to turn them over to their country of origin. Now, in the past, I recognize that Iran has said that they're going to try al Qaeda members in their custody. This is something they have previously said. We want to see action, and the action we want to see is that they turn over those al Qaeda members in their custody to their country of origin.
Q: Even if they're tried and convicted, the United States would find this unacceptable because they would still would be in Iranian custody?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to see actions, and the action that we want to see is that they turn them over to their country of origin. As I said, they've said in the past that they would try those al Qaeda members in their custody. We expect Iran to live up to their international obligations in the global war on terrorism.
Q: Scott, why is that? Is it because you don't believe that Iran will follow through with the trial? Is it because you don't believe that justice would follow an Iranian trial? Which of the two is it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I pointed out, a number of countries have already approached Iran about turning over those al Qaeda members reportedly in custody so that they can pursue the indictments in their own country. We have had a number of concerns about Iran relating to terrorism. We've expressed those concerns repeatedly. And that policy remains the same.
Q: But we do not respond to countries that want to try some of the people we're holding in Guantanamo Bay, in other countries.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we are in discussion with countries about those matters on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Well, we're in discussion with Great Britain about those matters, of course.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I would point out that some of those detainees have been returned to their country of origin. But, again, if there are people involved in carrying out terrorist attacks on the United States of America, we will pursue them and bring them to justice.
Q: But is it concern about Iran that justice -- that it would not mete out justice?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have concerns about Iran supporting terrorism. We have repeatedly said that.
Q: Scott, on the space program, there have been some complaints about NASA's plans to scuttle the Hubble space telescope -- Senator Mikulski and others. In light of the problems today with Spirit, is the President still committed, first of all, to scuttling Hubble, and is he still going to transfer the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, there was some more positive news earlier today from Spirit, and obviously, Opportunity will -- is scheduled to land on Mars tomorrow. NASA continues to stay on top of this -- on top of this matter, and I think that they can provide you further details about the communications that they are receiving from Spirit earlier today, as well as how they're continuing to move forward to pursue further communications with Spirit.
But the President remains strongly committed to the exploration of space for the reasons he stated in his speech. And what was important, remember, we had the terrible tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The President directed his administration to undertake a review of our space policy. And it's important, and I think the President outlined this in his remarks, that we have a well-defined mission for space exploration. And that's really what his policy was about, was defining a very clear mission for the future of our space program and for the future of space exploration. And I would point out that most of the resources directed toward that effort are coming from existing budgeted funds.
Q: But for the sake of clarity, could you please get us a fuller explanation of why Sean O'Keefe plans to end the Hubble program?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think NASA can probably address those matters. But that's why I pointed out, that it's important that they focus their resources on a clearly defined mission. That's where -- the President wants to make sure that we're focusing our resources on clear missions and on programs that produce meaningful results. And that applies to NASA, as well. And that's why he outlined the speech that he did. I think NASA can talk to you more about some of the specific details within that.
Q: Scott, there is a new proposal by Senator Daschle and Senator Hagel on immigration reform. My question to you is, has the White House reviewed this proposal and the President will support that? And Democrats say this is an answer to the ambiguity of the President's proposal on immigration reform.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that we are reviewing the various legislative proposals. Obviously the President put forward his ideas and his plan for moving forward on a new temporary worker program that is compassionate, that is humane, and that meets our economic needs. And so the President is working from his plan. We want to work closely with Congress to move forward on that new temporary worker program. And I think he spelled out his views very clearly in terms of what we're talking about here are temporary workers that are filling jobs that we cannot find Americans to fill. And that they should not be granted an automatic path to citizenship or amnesty. The President has made his views very clear on that. But we look forward to working with Congress and moving forward on this important priority as soon as possible.
Q: But has the President reviewed the proposal of Senator --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said that we are, we will be reviewing the various proposals. But we want to work closely with Congress on the plan that the President outlined. And he put forward some clear principles for moving forward on legislation that would meet that commitment.
Q: Scott, the U.S. Conference of Mayors put out a report saying that most of the cities have yet to receive the homeland security money for '03. Has the White House identified a problem there?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I think that the President touched on our commitment to homeland security in his remarks yesterday, in terms of the new budget that will be coming out soon and our continued commitment to providing significant resources to states and local governments in our efforts to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect the American people and secure the homeland.
Let me remind you what the President always says, too, and what he's acting decisively to do. And that is, win the war on terrorism. The best way to win the war on terrorism and prevent an attack from happening in the first place is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive, and bring the terrorists to justice before they can do us harm. And so that's the most important priority for the President of the United States. But right up there with it, just as important, is to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect the American people here at home. And that's why we have committed significant resources to state and local governments. And that would include first responders within those resources.
Since 2001, we have provided more than $13 billion to help states and local governments prepare and respond and prevent possible terrorist attacks. So that's what we'll continue to work, to make sure that our resources are targeted to where they are most needed as well. And I think that in our upcoming budget, it will reflect our commitment to making sure that those resources we have are focused in the areas where they are most needed, and that would certainly include high threat areas, and high threat urban areas.
Q: What's the holdup in the actual disbursement of the money?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you can probably talk to Homeland Security about some of the disbursal of the various funds. But I think that some of that goes to the money that is distributed to states and then the local governments working with those states to receive that funding.
Q: So the holdup is at the state level?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to check with the Department of Homeland Security on some of that. But I think the money goes to the states and then the local governments are getting it from the states as well.
Q: Scott, on the subject of the President's budget, you told us this morning that he plans for the budget for 2005 to hold the spending request level to just under 1 percent, versus 4 percent for non-defense and non-Homeland Security related programs. Four percent was what we were told earlier in the week. Why the change?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, there's not a change. Let me explain it to you. The 4 percent, we're talking about all discretionary spending. That's the less than 4 percent number. When you're talking about the 1 percent number, that's when you take out Defense and Homeland Security. Because, obviously, the President -- the highest priorities for the American people are winning the war on terrorism and protecting the homeland. And our budget will reflect that that is the highest priority, that the President's most important responsibility is to protect the American people -- and that is why he's acting decisively to do so.
And every year he puts forward responsible budgets that meet our highest priorities, like winning the war on terrorism and protecting the homeland, that focus our resources toward programs that work and achieve real results. And budgets that rein in the growth in government spending.
We commend the Congress for moving forward on the spending legislation yesterday, the Senate for finally acting and getting that passed. And it meets the President's priorities of funding our priorities and then holding the line on spending elsewhere in the budget. It holds the line on spending to 4 percent growth in discretionary spending. So this President is helping to rein in the growth in government spending by the budgets that we've put forward, and he remains committed to doing that.
Q: Has the President been under any pressure from fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill who are worried about the growing budget deficit?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I pointed out that the President, in every one of his budgets, has acted to fund our priorities and then rein in the growth in government spending. And if you go back to the budget before he took office, we saw in non-homeland security, non-defense spending, we saw -- discretionary spending -- we saw an increase of 15 percent. Then in the President's budgets, we've seen that limited to a growth of 6 percent and 5 percent and then 4 percent in this most recent budget.
And now in the '05 budget, the President looks forward to working with Congress to make sure that we continue to fund our priorities and hold the line on spending elsewhere by holding discretionary spending to slightly under 4 percent. And then within that, holding non-homeland security, non-defense discretionary spending to less than 1 percent. This will help us meet our priorities, but also move forward on the President's plan for cutting the deficit in half over the next five years.
Q: Some of the President's most ardent supporters were disappointed that he didn't say more in the State of the Union Address about the out-of-control judiciary. While the Pickering appointment was well received, what's the President going to do to break the logjam of the obstructionist minority in the Senate on his judges that are still being filibustered?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President continues to urge a minority of Senate Democrats to quit playing politics with our nation's judicial system. The Senate needs to move forward and give all nominees an up-or-down vote. That is their constitutional responsibility. The President has put forward highly qualified nominees, and the Senate -- a minority of Senate Democrats have chosen to play partisan politics and obstruct the process. Meanwhile, there are some judicial emergencies that need to be filled, and one of those was the vacancy that Judge Pickering is now filling.
Q: In the 6th Circuit, in particular, there is a judicial crisis, where the caseloads are far in excess of the average of the other circuits. Will the President recess-appoint just to fill those vacancies?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there are other nominees that have made it clear to us that they want us to continue, and we will continue, to fight to make sure that they receive an up-or-down vote as soon as possible. We can't emphasize enough the need for a minority of Senate Democrats to stop obstructing the judicial process and to give these nominees, who are highly qualified, an up-or-down vote. Many of these nominees have received the highest rating from the American Bar Association, which Democrats have held out as the gold standard. And so we will continue to press forward on these nominees and urge action by the Senate.
Q: Yes, Scott, let me follow on the budget, if I can. The area that you're talking about holding to under 1 percent includes a chunk of domestic -- the President's domestic agenda -- health care, education, a lot of other domestic spending. These are areas that you're going to hold to clearly less than the rate of inflation. So in real terms, you're cutting these --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it depends on which areas you're talking about.
Q: So you're not cutting these areas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to have the budget, it will be out soon. I assure you that it's going to be a responsible budget. It's going to meet our priorities in all those important areas, some of which you mentioned, and then it's going to hold the line on spending elsewhere within the budget.
Q: So you're not cutting these areas?
MR. McCLELLAN: And that's what the President is committed to doing. Obviously, we have some very high priorities that we must make sure we fully fund. That's the war on terrorism and that's homeland security. And that's what this President is doing. We have to remember that we are at war on terrorism. We have to remember that we have new threats that we're working to confront in this 21st century, and so it's important to set clear priorities. That's what this President has always done -- done going back to his days as the Governor of Texas. And then make sure that we hold the line on spending elsewhere in the budget.
But those priorities, if you set clear priorities, you can make sure that those priorities are met and that your commitments are met while holding the line on spending elsewhere in the budget.
Q: He is talking about cutting these areas that are not -- that he doesn't --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Mark, you're -- that's a very broad statement. I mean, there are certain areas that will not receive as much funding as some other areas. But it's an important priority in principle that the President works for when it comes to budgeting and that's what he will continue to do.
And in terms of education, I would point out that we have provided significant increases to education, an historic level of funding for education and for the reforms that we're implementing. Most importantly, we're implementing reforms that will help improve our public schools.
And when it comes to health care, the President laid out some very clear priorities to address the rising cost of health care to make health care more affordable, make sure Americans have access to quality, affordable health care, and that they can choose the kind of health care that meets their individual needs. And that's important. But, again, the budget will be released here soon and we look forward to discussing it more at that point.
Q: Scott, is food safety part of that area that would get increased funding? And if so, how much and what areas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, as I said earlier and as I said earlier this week, the full budget is going to be put out on February 2nd and then we will have a detailed briefing on the budget at that point. But food safety is obviously an important priority. It is an important priority when it comes to the issue of terrorism, as well.
But we have -- the Department of Agriculture and the FDA make that -- make food safety a high priority. They are working to improve our food safety and make sure that we are acting to protect the food supply.
Q: Indicating that they are on the list to possibly get more funds?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, stay tuned. The budget will be out soon, and then we can talk more about it at that point.
Q: One more on the budget. Do you know if any of the AIDS funds will be going to Africa and the Caribbean this year, or are they deferred for another year?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is strongly committed to confronting the AIDS pandemic, and that's why he put forward his emergency relief plan. And that calls for a strong commitment over five years and we'll continue to ramp up. And you brought up a very important priority that was passed in this current budget. The current budget that was passed yesterday by the Senate has a significant amount of funding for addressing AIDS in those countries, the most afflicted countries, where people are in need. And the President is strongly committed to that priority.
Q: Do you know how much goes this year, though? I couldn't figure that out.
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe it was $2.4 billion, but I'd have to double check in this current budget. And then we'll be proposing additional resources in the upcoming budget, and it's a total of $15 billion over five years going toward this effort.
Q: But is that $2.4 billion domestic or overseas?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm talking about for the emergency relief plan, which is an international effort to -- with a priority focus on specific countries in Africa and then two in the Caribbean where they are most afflicted.
Q: When the administration talks about cutting the deficit in half over five years, are you talking about it in terms of dollar amount or percentage of GDP?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's either way you look at it.
Q: Well, one would give you a little more latitude, as far as the larger economy --
MR. McCLELLAN: We've previously said both. But we're talking about cutting it in half over the next five years. And either way you look at it, it will be cut in half over the next five years, under the proposal that the President has put forth.
Q: But I believe it's around the $500 billion range right now, and if you look in those terms it would be $250 billion -- but if it's a larger economy you could actually have a larger number and still claim it's half the deficit.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we've said either way you look at it, we're talking about cutting it in half over the next five years.
Q: Scott, Secretary Chao just sent a letter to Congress saying that if the Congress adds specific industry relief to a pension bill for, like, the airline industry, that she will recommend the President veto it. I'm wondering how that is consistent with a compassionate conservative agenda when you're talking about millions of people who work in these industries may be at risk of losing their pensions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're talking about the House plan that the Senate is now considering. We put out a statement of administration policy on that just yesterday, and in that statement it makes very clear that we support prompt passage of this legislation, which is the pension funding equity act, because it contains important interest rate provisions. It is also consistent with our proposal to transition to more accurate discounting of pension liabilities. And it contains a call for comprehensive funding reform to protect the benefits American workers have earned.
Now, at the same time, we have stated our opposition to any amendments that would substantially weaken funding requirements for pension plans. Pension under-funding threatens workers and retirees who depend on the defined benefit pension system to be predictable and reliable. And if Congress encourages firms to under-fund their pensions by substantially weakening pension funding requirements, retirees could face pension cuts when a firm terminates its defined benefit and pension plan. So that's the way we're approaching it and that's our view, and that was put out in a statement of administration policy just yesterday.
Q: I apologize if I've missed a nuance here on the 4 percent and the 1 percent. If an individual program is going to increase more than 1 percent or 4 percent, is that the kind of thing where the President would personally want to sign off with or programs wouldn't be allowed to break above that cap?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are programs going to be allowed to break above that? Well, I think you will see some above, some below. The budget is going to be coming out soon. You'll get the full telephone books, so you'll be able to look through each of the individual programs.
Q: Mrs. Bush has announced a couple of programs already. Yesterday she talked about one of her library and museum ones going up 14 percent.
MR. McCLELLAN: Right. Right.
Q: So that's not -- so the President thinks that's okay so long as the department, itself, or the agency doesn't go above --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, you're not trying to put every single agency in that category. I'm saying at the overall number, when you take out defense and you take out homeland security, discretionary spending will
be slightly below 1 percent. The growth in discretionary spending will be slightly below 1 percent. But the -- we are moving forward on what we view as a very responsible budget that meets our priorities and holds the line on spending elsewhere in the budget. That's important, as the President pointed out in his statement yesterday, to fund priorities, cut wasteful spending, and that's where he's coming from.
Q: I just want to go back to what I began asking you about. Halliburton, as you know, is already under investigation by the Inspector General of the DOD for allegedly over-charging for fuel contracts. Now there are allegations of corruption regarding one of its subsidiaries. Is the President getting hincky at all about this company's involvement in what is one of the most critical issues for his administration, particularly the idea that any time something happens involving this company, it comes right back around to the White House -- because of the Vice President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly. The question, which you've acted like you were surprised that people were trying to politicize this for election year advantage.
Q: No, I'm just wondering if he's getting hincky at all about allegations of over-charging and now corruption?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, those contract decisions are made by the Department of Defense. And if there are problems there, we expect the Department of Defense to look into that, to get to the bottom of it, and fix that problem. And the President has made that very clear. I don't think the President of the United States could have been clearer when that question was asked of him in the Roosevelt Room just a few months ago.
Q: My question is, is he personally getting a little concerned about this company's involvement in one of the most critical issues facing this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of safeguards that have been put in place in the contracting process. We expect those safeguards to be followed, and I think that that is exactly what is happening now, because the Department of Defense is moving forward to look into that matter and to get to the bottom of it. And then if there were over-payments, we expect that to be repaid in full.
Q: I have a follow-up. The Associated Press is reporting today that a French judge is investigating a bribery scandal involving Halliburton when the Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of that company. And the judge, according to this AP report today, has warned Cheney that he could be subject to criminal charges in France concerning this bribery scandal in Nigeria. So the question is, if the French want to extradite the Vice President to stand trial in France, will the President allow for that extradition? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Did I just talk about people using this for election year advantage?
Go ahead, John.
Q: No, this is an AP report about a criminal investigation of Halliburton.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I've heard your political commentary about it, and I think we'll move on.
Q: The omnibus spending bill that the President will sign -- you say, soon -- it contains one victory that's not for the President. It's sort of an absence of something in there. Congress did not go ahead, as many people in both the Senate and the House wanted to, to stop his change in the overtime pay rules. Still, there are a lot of Republicans who think it's not wise and not fair to block the overtime provisions that are in there for people who make over $22,000 a year. They say it will make it much easier for employers to classify workers as management, thereby keeping them from getting overtime pay that they're not getting. Will the President, before this rule goes into effect in what we're being told is probably going to be March -- will the President rethink this at all, or is this now a done deal and it's going to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think the Department of Labor is still moving forward on the actual proposed rule. It's a proposed rule at this point, so they'll be moving forward on the actual regulations relating to that rule. But the proposed rules restore overtime protections, that have eroded over five decades, to millions of white-collar workers who deserve overtime protection today and currently are not protected by the current rules. And our goal is to make sure that there are better rules on the books that protect more workers. And under this approach, you're going to see many more workers who currently aren't covered be able to receive overtime pay.
But the Department of Labor is still moving forward on the actual regulations within this rule. I would point out that the proposed rule does not impact hourly workers or blue-collar workers, and that would include police and firefighters and the many first responders who are out there.
Q: What you say is true of people who make under $22,000. The administration says it's trying to increase overtime --
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, and overall it will.
Q: But then you go to people who make over $22,000 -- to be precise, $22,100 a year -- the rule would make it easier for employers to say, you no longer qualify for overtime, I'm considering you a manager. Is the President going to rethink that part of the rule at all, or is that a done deal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, it's a proposed rule at this point. The Department of Labor is still moving forward on the actual rule, itself. And I just pointed out our view in terms of why this is something that will provide better rules to cover more workers in the work force who deserve overtime pay and currently do not receive it. So that's our --
Q: Related to --
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks -- well, one more, one more. You started before he said "thank you," so we'll get one more.
Q: Related to the omnibus, does the President support the voluntary plan, the industry plan for country-of-origin labeling? And if he did, what would he do? And what action would he take if he gets a bill that would require immediate implementation of country-of-origin before 2006?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you know, the legislation provides for a two-year delay on moving forward on the country-of-origin labeling that was part of the farm bill. What the President wants to make sure that we're doing is that we're doing everything we can to improve food safety. There are a lot of questions and there certainly hasn't been any evidence to suggest that this is an effective way to improve safety. So we've previously stated our views on this when it was going through the House. And right now the legislation calls for a two-year delay of implementation of that.
But we're committed to acting to improve food safety, and taking steps that are known to protect our food supply and improve food safety. So that's where we are.
Thank you very much. Have a good weekend.
END 1:06 P.M. EST
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