White House Briefing, September 2, 2003
|Tuesday September 2, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT MCCLELLAN
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me do a quick run-through of the President's day. The President had his usual briefings this morning. He has been participating in a lunch with Chairman Greenspan. At 1:35 p.m. this afternoon, the President will participate in the presentation of the first game football of the 2003 National Football League season. Following that, he has a meeting scheduled with the Secretary of State. And that's his schedule for the day.
I have one announcement to make, and then a few brief remarks, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. I am pleased to announce that beginning September 16th, White House tours will be expanded. Tours will now be available to all parties requesting a tour through their member of Congress and who complete required security procedures. Currently, as you'll remember, tours are open to school groups, youth groups, U.S. military and veterans groups, and all tours are set up through their member of Congress. Starting September 16th, the tours will be expanded for interested parties who complete the required security information and work through their member of Congress.
Q: Does that mean we don't think there's a security problem anymore?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to address those concerns, and that's why at this point we're able to expand the tours now. You can check with the White House website for further information and tour guidelines.
As Congress returns from their recess, the President remains focused on our nation's highest priorities, winning the war on terrorism abroad and creating jobs at home. The national security and economic security of the American people remain the President's highest priorities. The President looks forward to working with Congress to pass a comprehensive energy plan that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and modernize our antiquated electricity delivery system.
The President looks forward to working with Congress to modernize and strengthen Medicare for our nation's seniors, so that they can have more choices and better benefits. Our seniors have waited far too long for the prescription drug coverage that they deserve.
The President looks forward to working with Congress on the remaining appropriations bills, to make sure that we are funding important priorities while exercising spending restraint. The President believes it's important for Congress to fund priorities, including providing our troops all the resources needed to win the war on terrorism, and while doing so, it is important that we not overspend in other areas.
And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Scott, what's the story with this person the President intends to appoint at Commerce? What is the job that person will have? And how does that have anything to do with manufacturing jobs?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that person will be someone who focuses on manufacturing, as I said earlier, and help address the challenges and job losses facing American manufacturing. That's why the President announced that yesterday at his stop in Ohio. So the new Assistant Secretary of Commerce will address the competitive challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. manufacturing sector.
The President has made economic growth and job creation a top priority of this administration, and he believes manufacturing is critical to job creation. Manufacturers have always reflected the best of American business, showing resiliency and high productivity. And the administration will do all it can to ensure that manufacturers can compete and win in this global economy.
Q: What will this person do that someone in the administration wasn't already doing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I said that this person's focus will be specifically on the manufacturing sector. And as you know, over a number of years now, manufacturing has seen a decline in jobs. But I would note that before coming out here, earlier today I saw a press report talking about the activity in the manufacturing sector, that it's expanding strongly, continues to expand strongly in August for the second straight month -- that that signals a start of a recovery in this lagging sector.
Q: What is it that --
MR. McCLELLAN: The reason the President announced this is because of the high priority he places on strengthening our manufacturing sector within the economy.
Q: Now, the President didn't specifically mention China yesterday, but obviously Secretary Snow is there. What is it that Secretary Snow hopes to accomplish? What is it that China is doing that it shouldn't do, or what would we like them to do that might make it easier for American manufacturers?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, China has indicated in the past that they intend to move toward greater flexibility and it's something that we support, it's something that we encourage. It's --
Q: -- for our manufacturers --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. It is our view that currency values are best set in open and competitive markets. And so Secretary Snow is in China now. He will be discussing those issues with the Chinese. And that's an important step forward.
Q: Scott, as you know, while the President was on vacation, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office came out with new deficit estimates, saying the deficit is going to be $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. Now, the President is out there making speeches in Seattle last week and elsewhere, saying his policies will cut the deficit in half by 2008. When he says he'll cut the deficit in half, is he including in his arithmetic the cost of war and reconstruction in Iraq, reconstruction in Afghanistan, a prescription drug benefit, or making the tax cuts permanent, all things he is arguing for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as a matter of fact, a lot of what you just brought up is in our budget proposal that we put forth to Congress. And what the President has emphasized in his budget --
Q: -- reconstructing Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- what the President has emphasized in his budget proposal -- well, that's a step that we're addressing as we assess what is needed and what the exact needs are and what the international participation will be. But as Congress moves forward on important priorities, it is important that they show spending restraint. That will help us address this.
We also have taken steps to strengthen our economy, get our economy growing. The best way to address this is to get our economy growing and show spending restraint on areas other than our highest priorities, so that we can address that and we can begin to cut that in half over the next several years.
Q: So you're saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: But the President's highest priority and his focus is on creating jobs and strengthening our economy. That's where his focus is.
Q: Fair enough. I'm trying to figure out what his arithmetic is. And it sounds like you're saying, yes, when the President says he will -- his policies will cut the deficit in half, he is including the cost of war and reconstruction in Iraq, reconstruction in Afghanistan, a prescription drug benefit, making the tax cuts permanent.
MR. McCLELLAN: Certainly the Medicare and the tax proposals, those are issues that are put forward in our budget proposals. In terms of cost of reconstruction, those are issues that we have to address as we know what our needs are and as the facts become available to us, in terms of what is needed and in terms of precise cost, to address the war in Iraq. But, yes, in terms of Medicare, that's all within our budget. In terms of the tax cuts, that's within our budget. And if Congress will hold the line on spending -- the President's fiscal year '04 budget holds the line on spending to, I think, 4 percent -- we can address the deficit.
But what's most important is to get the economy growing even stronger than it already is. There are a number of positive signs out there from the recent GDP numbers to low interest rates to housing starts and consumer spending. So the President is continuing to act to strengthen our economy. And that will get more revenues coming in to address that.
Q: Just one more. As a fiscal conservative, is he proud of his fiscal record?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, if you remember -- absolutely, the President focuses on our highest priorities and then makes sure that in other areas that we are showing fiscal restraint. And that's what he's doing. But remember, remember the situation that we have faced, the challenges that we have faced when it has come to our economy. When the President came into office he inherited a recession. Then, as we were beginning to pull out of that recession, the terrorists attacked us on our home front. Then we had the corporate scandals; we worked to address that. We worked to act on getting our economy growing by passing tax relief. Then we passed additional tax relief, which is beginning to be realized and the people are beginning to realize the benefits of that not only in their paychecks, but through the child tax credit, as well. So there's more money to spend and put back into the economy.
Q: Are you working on a package for the manufacturing industry that would include tax credits?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there are a number of things being discussed in Congress, and one of the issues that was raised earlier in the day related to our tax laws and WTO compliance. And we are committed to bringing our tax laws into WTO compliance and to reforming international tax rules in such a way that preserves the competitiveness of the U.S. business operating in the global marketplace. But I think it's something that we'll work closely with Congress on, to reform the international tax rules to ensure the competitiveness of American workers and businesses.
Q: So the industry should expect some help, then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, we're working with Congress, but I think that the President has shown his commitment to all sectors of the economy by the action that we are taking to create jobs and strengthen our economy.
Q: Scott, on Iraq, the House International Relations Committee is working on legislation that they're going to mark up next week that will call on the United States administration to seek a greater international role, or international support, in the rebuilding of Iraq, with a lot of specifics, and one of those is NATO participation. What is the administration's view on legislation and working with Congress to support the idea of Congress giving a lot of specific proposals in the form of legislation that would --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, a couple of points that I would like to make in terms of international participation in Iraq. International participation has been, and will continue to be, an important part of our overall strategy when it comes to Iraq. A number of countries are already participating in our efforts in Iraq and we are in close discussion with other countries about how they can participate. We welcome the help of other countries.
It's a long-term, major undertaking, and it's an international issue that requires an international response. And we are continuing to have those discussions with other countries. We are continuing to discuss this at the U.N. The U.N. has a very vital role to play in this process. They have been playing a vital role, such a vital role that you saw that they -- the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was attacked by those who seek to stop the progress, those who are enemies of the Iraqi people.
Q: But is having legislation, once again, coming through Congress really focusing on the issue of reconstruction, is that something that the White House would encourage or discourage at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue to work closely with Congress as we move forward on our reconstruction efforts and as we move forward on determining what our exact needs are, to make sure that we have all the resources necessary dedicated to this important effort. Remember, a free and democratic Iraq is central to winning the war on terrorism. It will bring about a more peaceful Middle East and it will make the world more safe, and make America more safe and secure.
Q: Following up on Iraq, what should the American people expect from the administration will be asked of them? In other words, we know that Iraq needs money and troops, the President has said that. How much of both are going to have to come from the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, David, as I mentioned, 31 countries are already participating in Iraq. There are a number of other countries that we are in discussions with about ways that they can participate. I think a number of other countries have already committed to provide troops. The ones that I mentioned have already publicly stated that position.
But the efforts in Iraq are critical to winning the war on terrorism and we are continuing to make sure that all the resources necessary are dedicated to this effort. This is something that we are reaching out to the international community on. They have been playing a vital role; they will continue to play a vital role. This is an effort by a coalition. We will continue to have the discussions with the U.N. about additional ways we can encourage other countries to participate, as well.
Q: Why should a country have confidence in this administration's plan to reconstruct Iraq and try to shore up a security situation that's in pretty sorry shape, when you're not -- there are no specifics about what's going to be required of taxpayers financially, or of U.S. troops more generally at a time when there's certainly many, including the President, who say more troops are needed there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think -- I disagree with some of your characterization of the situation in Iraq. I think what you have seen in the recent attacks is how desperate the remnants of the former regime are and how desperate the foreign terrorists are because we are making some important progress. We are making progress on a number of fronts.
Much of Iraq is secure. We are -- the Governing Council just yesterday took an important step forward that will lead to an Iraq governed of, by, and for the Iraqi people. They announced the cabinet ministers to oversee different areas in Iraq. So Iraqis are beginning to assume more responsibility for their country, and that's important.
But this effort is going to be a major undertaking, as the President has talked about. It will require a substantial commitment of time and resources. But what it will do is lead to a more secure and safer America and world. And this is important in our overall efforts to winning the war on terrorism. And that's why this cause is so important. And that's why the President has been very up front in terms of what we are doing and what is needed to continue to address needs in Iraq.
Q: No matter how many countries may be participating at the moment or considering participating, the fact remains that you have no substantial commitment of troops from other nations, and you won't have, clearly, until there is some agreement to either give up some of the U.S. command position or put some of it into the U.N. What plans do you have to get India and the major countries of Europe into this force by giving some control to the U.N.?
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, each country has to make their own decisions --
Q: -- what do we --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- about what role they can play. As I said, there are some 30 countries already participating.
Q: Yes, but they're not participating --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- there are a number of other countries that have already committed to help. And then we are in discussions with others about ways we can encourage them to participate in the process. So those are discussions that we are having --
Q: But the plain fact is you don't have enough troops to do the job. It gets demonstrated day after day.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's our commanders in the field that we rely on to determine what is needed in terms of our troops. We also welcome the support and participation of other countries in this effort. And a number of countries are participating. I think there are some -- well -- more than 20,000 troops already committed from some 30 countries already, and we continue to have discussions with others about ways that they can participate.
Q: Why won't you say whether we're willing to give up some power to the U.N., some control over the multination force? As least they will be able to save face.
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, the U.N. has been playing a vital role in Iraq, and they will continue to.
Q: That's a specific question -- they do not have any power in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: The U.N. is participating very closely with our coalition provisional authority in our efforts in Iraq. The U.N. will continue to have a vital role in Iraq as we move forward. We continue to have discussions at the U.N. about ways we can encourage more international troops to participate in Iraq, but --
Q: You admit that's the issue, don't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I would also point out what I said a minute ago, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their country. There are more than 50,000 Iraqis -- and, Bill, this goes back to a little bit about what you were talking about, too -- who are defending their own country, as part of a new Iraqi army, as part of a police force, border control. So -- and there are a number of Iraqis that have volunteered for a civil defense force, as well, and 38,000 in the police force.
Q: But the security situation remains --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what you're seeing, again, is the more progress we make, the more desperate those cold-blooded killers become, the remnants of the former regime. This was a brutal regime, and they are becoming more desperate as we move forward, and foreign terrorists who are coming into Iraq because they are enemies of freedom, they are enemies of the Iraqi people, they are enemies of a better future for the Iraqi people. That's what you're seeing.
And that's why we are taking the fight to them. That's why we are on the offensive, going after these foreign terrorists, going after these remnants of the former regime. We are bringing them -- remnants of the former regime to justice. We have captured some just recently, and we will continue to do so. Our military is doing an outstanding job. And Iraqis are assuming more and more responsibility as we move forward, and that's important.
Q: On the President's speech on the economy on Thursday, are we going to hear anything new from the President, or is it going to be the same thing that we've heard before? Is this a major economic speech, or is it just a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think on Thursday and Friday, both in Kansas City and Indianapolis, the President -- the President continues to focus, as I mentioned at the beginning, on strengthening our economy. And they're --
Q: New plans, new programs, new ideas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish -- well, there are proposals that we have put forward that Congress has not acted on that need to be acted upon. I mentioned a couple of those right at the beginning. Congress needs to act on a comprehensive energy bill. That will help not only our economic security, but our national security, as well, by reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Congress needs to act on modernizing Medicare and providing seniors with prescription drug coverage. Congress needs to act on the appropriations bills and show spending restraint as they move forward to fund our important priorities. Congress also needs to act on lawsuit reform. That lawsuit abuse cost us jobs, it cost the consumers. So there are a number of areas that the President is talking about where more can be done to strengthen our economy.
Q: If I can follow on that, lots of economists have been saying recently that the kind of growth that we're likely to see as a result of the President's plans and policies so far, and the tax cuts and everything else aren't going to generate the kind of growth that can cut deficits in any meaningful way any time going forward. So the President must be thinking about -- unless growth is literally at 7 or 8 or 9 percent, which no one is predicting it will be, the President must be thinking about some domestic program cuts, because that's the only we can close the budget gap. What are they are where are we likely to see them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President's focused on creating jobs -- that's what's most important, is getting our economy growing and creating jobs. And that's why you're beginning to see our economy pick up more steam and grow even faster. There are a lot of positive signs out there and that's where the President will continue to be focused.
At the same time, you mentioned the deficit. We do have one; it is manageable; and that's why we're working to address it, as well. And the way to address that is to get more revenue coming in, and that means strengthening our economy. And the way to address that is for Congress to fund our priorities and then show spending restraint in other areas.
Q: Well, given that, historically, that doesn't happen, either at
this end of Pennsylvania Avenue or at the other -- there are spending
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the framework for the budget was set within what the President called for, in that 4 percent framework. Now they're passing the appropriations bills and we'll continue to work with them to make sure that those priorities are funded, but that spending restraint is shown elsewhere within those appropriations bills.
Q: Scott, you called for Congress to pass Medicare reform. Senator Grassley proposed something very concrete; he said the President should set a deadline for passage. He suggested Columbus Day, which I guess is mid-October. What does the President think about setting a specific deadline, saying, get a bill to me by that date?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President believes that Congress should act as quickly as possible, because seniors have waited long enough for the prescription drug coverage they deserve. And what we're going to do is continue working closely with members of Congress, and Senator Grassley is one of the leaders on this issue and we've been working closely with him and we will continue to do so. But the President is very involved in this effort because this is one of his highest priorities and it's one of the most important priorities for our nation's seniors. And it's time for Congress to act and move as quickly as possible. That's what we'll do.
Q: Is he considering setting a deadline? You're not answering the question, obviously. I mean, should there be a --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to continue working with Congress to make sure that we get seniors more choices and better benefits and a strong Medicare bill passed this year.
Q: Can I ask one more on that? Members of the House, conservatives, are very insistent -- and have been all month, apparently -- about making sure there is some provisions in there so that the wealthier pay more for their drugs. What are the President's thoughts about that, just generally, that the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, now you're getting into specifics about some of the discussions that are ongoing in terms of the conference committee. The President committed to working closely with the conference committee as it moves forward to get the legislation out and passed by Congress, and that's what we're going to do. I'm not going to sit here and get into those discussions in this forum. I think that forum is best held with the members of Congress on that issue.
Q: Scott, what are the President's plans for marking the anniversary of the September 11th attacks? And does he believe the country is safer today than it was two years ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: Bob, I think that we will have more to say on that over the next couple of days. I think it's a little bit early to preview right now, but I plan on coming back to that in the next couple of days and talk more about what his plans are for the second anniversary.
Q: And does he believe the country is safer today than it was two years ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. We have taken a number of steps to make America safer. Most importantly, we are taking the fight to the terrorists; we are on the offensive and we are winning the war on terrorism. We are bringing people to justice. We are disrupting and dismantling the terrorist networks, wherever they are, and we will continue to do so.
We have also taken a number of steps to improve our homeland security. And Secretary Ridge is in the process right now of announcing some additional steps we are taking to continue to make America safer.
Yes, we are, but there is more that we can do. And certainly from the standpoint of homeland security, Governor Ridge -- or Secretary Ridge is always looking at ways we can build upon what we have accomplished. The President will also continue to wage this war on terrorism and he will be relentless in our pursuit of terrorists, wherever they are.
Q: Scott, can I go back to manufacturing, just real quickly. You said this morning that the President is taking several steps to make sure that there is fairer trade, one of them being pressuring the Chinese on the currency. You also mentioned the tax situation with the WTO. A number of analysts also say that eliminating the steel tariffs that were imposed would help auto manufacturers and other steel consumers who have been hurt by the steel tariffs and lost more jobs than the steel workers who were helped by the tariffs. Is that on the table? And if it's not, what are some of the other steps? Because that's only two that I've heard so far.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things, first, by addressing the steel issue. Free trade is a cornerstone of the President's agenda to create more jobs for American workers and spur economic growth. And under the steel safeguards that were imposed, the International Trade Commission is required to report on the effect of the safeguards at the midway point. And that ITC report is expected in the fall and we look forward to reviewing that at that time. But the President put forward a comprehensive steel strategy aimed at addressing unfair distortions in our world steel markets. So we will look forward to reviewing that report once it is out.
In terms of the action that we have taken to open markets for U.S. companies and workers, let me go through some of that. The administration has negotiated globally, regionally, and bilaterally to break down barriers and open markets for U.S. goods and services. We have been successful in getting trade promotion authority passed so that the United States can participate fully in global trade negotiations. And that's where we can address some of these barriers. And that's where we can make sure that not only do we have free trade, but we have fair trade. We've been successful in launching the Doha Round of world trade negotiations. And our negotiators will be participating in the Cancun ministerial negotiations next week. So we're working on important global efforts.
We're also working on regional trade initiatives, including the Central American free trade agreement and the FTAA, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. And then there are bilateral agreements, a number of those, as well, with Australia, Morocco that we're in the process of negotiating. And tomorrow the President will be signing the ones that were recently passed with Chile and Singapore.
Q: Let me make sure I understood you correctly. Basically you're saying that the steel policy isn't going to be reviewed, or there's no change until after the fall review --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we look forward to reviewing that ITC report. There's nothing -- we look forward to reviewing it at that point. That's where it is.
Q: Scott, the President is going to be signing those two agreements, Singapore and Chile, tomorrow. Critics say that those kinds of agreements are costing us manufacturing jobs. What is the President's response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why when we negotiate these, we make sure that we have free trade, but we have fair trade, as well. I think I've already addressed the manufacturing issue, in terms of what we are doing to address those concerns.
Q: Scott, going back to Bob's question, Senator Kerry today, in launching his candidacy, said that this President has failed to make us as safe as we should be. What's your response? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'll leave the politics to the Democrats in their primary. The President is continuing to focus on the people's business. And as I mentioned, the highest priorities for this President are our national security and economic security. And the most important way to make America safer is to go after terrorists, wherever they are, find them, and bring them to justice. That's what we have been doing.
We also need to take steps to improve our homeland security. And the President has acted on that front, by appointing Secretary Ridge to oversee those efforts. And there are a number of steps we have taken to improve our homeland security, from strengthening our borders to protecting our ports to improving aviation security. And Secretary Ridge is announcing additional initiatives that we are taking to build upon those efforts. That's why I said, yes, we are safer, but there is more that we can do and there is more that we are committed to doing.
Q: You're saying that Senator Kerry's criticism is political?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry --
Q: Are you saying that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm saying -- you're asking about specific people that are running for President. I'm saying that I'll leave their comments to the Democratic primary. That's where that belongs. The President is going to continue focusing on his highest priorities for the American people and getting business done here in Washington, D.C.
Q: Two questions, one on the 9/11 anniversary and one on Iraq. I know you said that you want to hold off for a day or two to announce the full plans, but I wondered if you can just answer one question. Will the President be in New York on the anniversary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me hold off, and I'll preview things for you over the next couple of days, on September 11th. There hasn't been any travel announced. I just want to hold off until I can preview his full September 11th activities.
Q: You can't indicate whether he'll be in the city for the anniversary?
MR. McCLELLAN: I will preview it in the next couple of days.
Q: On Iraq, you said a little while ago that much of Iraq is secure now. We've heard similar statements from other officials in recent days. In light of last week's bombing in Najaf and in light of what happened at U.N. headquarters, in light of some of the other attacks, do you think most people in Iraq today, both Iraqi and non-Iraqi, would agree that they're secure?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it depends on what area you live in, terms of -- there's a certain area there where you have remnants of the former regime and foreign terrorists who are trying to wreak havoc on the progress that we are making. But we will not be deterred. We will continue moving forward because this is such an important cause to not only America's safety and security, but the world's safety and security.
Q: But Najaf is outside that area where most of the attacks have occurred --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that was another indication of the fact that these remnants of the former regime or the foreign terrorists, the people that are carrying out these kind of attacks are enemies of the Iraqi people and a better future of the Iraqi people.
I mean, you mentioned the Najaf bombing, and that was an attack on the Iraqi people. You also had an attack on the U.N. headquarters which, again, shows the vital role that the U.N. has been playing in providing humanitarian assistance and help with reconstruction. But these people are enemies of peace, they are enemies of freedom. And we will continue to take the fight to them.
Q: How do you define security? Give us your definition of security in the sense in which you say much of Iraq is secure. How do you define that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, there's a certain area in there where the security is a much higher concern than other areas in Iraq. And that's why we are taking steps to go on the offensive. We have been going on the offensive, we will continue to go on the offensive against these remnants of the former regime and against these foreign terrorists that come into this country.
The Iraqi people are assuming more and more responsibility for their own security and for their own future. That's why I pointed out that you have some 38,000 Iraqis who are members of the police force in Iraq. You have, I think, 1,400 who have volunteered to take part in a civil defense force. You have another 12,000 that are being trained for an Iraqi army. So there are a number of steps that we are taking.
Q: Scott, going back to a question that came up this morning, were you able to chase down the motivation for the policy in The Washington Post report this morning on the refusal to issue numbers of troops wounded unless there are troops killed in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that that's an issue that you need to talk to the Department of Defense about, about what their policy is, what it has been, what it is and what it will be moving forward.
Q: While that may be a Pentagon policy in your view, from an administration standpoint, doesn't this appear to downplay the sacrifice made by people who are wounded over there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, I think that you are seeing the outstanding job that our medical forces are doing to save lives in Iraq. That's important. Our troops continue to make sacrifices in this important effort that is underway in Iraq, and we appreciate the sacrifices that are being made. It's for an important cause; it's for making the world a safer place; it's for bringing about peace and security in the Middle East; and it's about bringing about a free and democratic Iraq.
Q: Why isn't that appreciation reflected in a policy that would report those numbers?
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Department of Defense does provide that information. There are a number of people, because of our advances in medical technology and because of the great work that our medical troops do, that are able to return quickly to their roles that they are playing in this effort.
Q: Thank you. On North Korea, did the President and Secretary of State discuss it today? And is the President now prepared to take tougher actions, perhaps a quarantine or financial boycott of North Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, the meeting with the Secretary of State hasn't taken place. But that's one of the regular meetings he has and it's not something that we typically get into readouts on. But our policy on North Korea remains the same. We are pursuing a peaceful, diplomatic solution through a multilateral forum. North Korea knows what they need to do. They need to end their pursuit of nuclear weapons, end its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way. And the talks last week, some progress was made. All countries made it very clear to North Korea that they support this policy.
Q: But is there any review, is there any sense of urgency, any consideration of changing course here?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're continuing to work this through the multilateral approach.
Q: To follow up on Peter's question, we were told by the Pentagon in order to get the information on wounded in action that we would have to file a Freedom of Information Act. Is that the position --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the specifics --
Q: -- does the White House support --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's why you need to talk to the Department of Defense.
Q: -- reporters having to file a Freedom of Information Act to get --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the Pentagon about the specifics within this issue.
Q: On immigration spending issues, when the President is going to call for a proposal for -- immigration? The Democrats are taking advantage of the White House waiting for the right time to present a proposal.
MR. McCLELLAN: There's no update I have at this point on where things are. The President has expressed his views and remains committed to that view.
Q: Scott, does the President in any way support the censorship of the Ten Commandments in Alabama? And I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, I think that we've addressed this issue. One, we need to respect our laws. Two, the courts have ruled that in certain circumstances it is okay to display the Ten Commandments, and in other circumstances, the courts have ruled that it's not okay. But the President believes that we must respect our laws. There is an appeals process that can be followed if you disagree with those rulings, and that's where things are.
Q: A court ordered the Virginia Military Institute to stop their long tradition of saying grace at meals. But when VMI played the Naval Academy on Saturday before 30,000 people at the Naval Academy -- of which the President is Commander-in-Chief -- not only opened the game with a prayer, but they also had a hymn. And my question is, does Commander Bush approve of this prayer and hymn, or does he disapprove?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's always been a supporter of voluntary student-led prayer.
Q: On the manufacturing issue, there are two fairly divergent versions being reviewed right now at Ways and Means. And one is $120 billion over 10 years. It's the proposal that Thomas is advancing. Another one by Crane and Rangel is revenue-neutral. Without going into the details of either provision, given the administration's concerns of keeping the deficit under control, does the administration want whatever comes out of there to be revenue-neutral?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, what I talked about is that we would work with Congress on those issues.
Q: May I have a follow-up, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: You may have a follow-up. All you have to do is say please. (Laughter.)
Q: The Medicare prescription drug deal also has a provision in it, at least in one version, dealing with drug re-importation. I know the administration is concerned about safety issues, but there is a proposal floating out there at least to have a three-year pilot program just with Canada, for re-importing drugs from Canada, where you have an opportunity to make sure the drugs being reimported are safe. Would the administration consider supporting the pilot program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there are a number of issues that we're working with Congress on, as this Medicare legislation moves forward. But our position in terms of the drug re-importation remains the same: We cannot verify the safety of those drugs that are coming back into the United States. And that is a concern that we have. So our position remains the same.
Q: Scott, two things. First, does the President know how many people have been killed and wounded in Iraq since the beginning of the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those numbers are made available, publicly.
Q: Does the President know how many --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's very well aware of the sacrifices that are made in Iraq.
Q: Well, how many -- how many people have been killed in Iraq? Not just Americans -- total people killed and wounded in Iraq since the beginning of the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Russell, I don't have those numbers.
Q: Does the President know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Russell, I think that --
Q: Are they available?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Are they available?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that you can keep track of all the
numbers. I mean those are issues you need to address to the coalition
Q: Do you know whether the President knows --
MR. McCLELLAN: Or, I'm sorry, the Central Command.
Q: Does the President know how many people have been killed --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President knows that what we are doing in Iraq is central to winning the war on terrorism.
Q: That wasn't my question.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is central --
Q: Does he know how many people have been killed --
MR. McCLELLAN: It is central to bringing about --
Q: I know that. But does he know how many --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- a more peaceful and more secure --
Q: -- have been killed and wounded.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- which means a safer world.
Q: That's not the question, Scott. The question I had was, does the President know how many --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've answered the question. I told you he's well aware of the sacrifices that our troops have made and the sacrifices that their families are making with our troops over there in Iraq.
Q: Okay, second question, does the President support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me come back to that. The President has talked about that in the past. Let me come back to -- let me just double-check. #
Q: Okay, second -- on a follow-up, does he support a balanced budget? Scott, does he support a balanced budget?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to that question. I'll take that question.
Q: Scott, on Afghanistan. We have multinational forces there, but still Taliban are bad and Afghanistan was the first country where the terrorism started -- terrorism, and dragging out Taliban and al Qaeda supporters and all that. Now, Karzai government in Afghanistan is asking this administration to go back and help the -- that have been left.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry. I didn't follow your question in there.
Q: The Talibans are back now in Afghanistan and are fighting and we have multinational forces, that's true. But how come the Talibans are still there?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to make progress in Afghanistan. There, again, you have enemies of peace and enemies of freedom, and enemies of the people of Afghanistan. That's why we're continuing our efforts to bring those former -- those Taliban members to justice, as well, and bring any terrorists there in that country to justice, too. We're making some important progress.
END 1:23 P.M. EDT
-- The President supports a balanced budget amendment, and is working to restrain spending so that we can reduce the deficit. However, the President also believes that protecting the lives and liberties of the American people may demand temporary borrowing, which is why he believes a balanced budget amendment should include exceptions for war, emergency and economic recession.
The President has a plan to cut the deficit in half in five years through stronger economic growth and responsible spending restraint. His budget proposal for next year would cut the growth of spending by more than 50 percent from the levels of the past five years. Government spending should not grow faster than family incomes.
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