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Presidential Remarks at Meeting With Economic Advisors

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 19, 1998


The Cabinet Room

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, let me say good morning,and as you can see, I'm about to meet with my economic team todiscuss the present state of the American economy, the developmentsin the world, and how we can keep our economy growing. We're goingto talk about the importance of promoting stability in Asia andmeeting our obligations to the IMF, the importance of preserving thesurplus until we resolve the issue of saving Social Security for the21st century, the importance of not destabilizing our economy withgimmicks like getting rid of the tax code before we know what willreplace it, and the importance of continuing our strategy oflong-term investments to grow the American economy through educationand technology.

Let me also make a few brief remarks on anotherobligation that we face, that I am still determined to see through --and that is our obligation to the public health of our children andto protect them from the dangers of tobacco. We have a chance, asall the surveys show, to save about a million lives a year if we dothe right thing on reducing childhood smoking. For six months wehave worked hard and in good faith to meet all legitimate objectionsto the legislation and to join together the priorities of bothparties.

Let me just be clear about this: every Senator whovoted to kill this bill not only voted against the provisions whichwill help to prevent teen smoking, which will help to put moreresearch into cancer research and to other public health problems andhelp to promote smoking cessation programs; they also voted againstfixing the marriage penalty and giving a tax break for workingfamilies with incomes under $50,000. They voted against new measuresto crack down on drugs. They voted against life-saving research.They also voted not to implement a program that can save a millionlives a year. It was a vote against our children and for the tobaccolobby. It's as simple at that; it is not complicated.

Now, some have suggested that Congress should now justget in line and do what the tobacco lobby wants them to do. That'sthe new suggestion: well, let's just do what the tobacco companieswill let us do, and appear to be passing a bill that will reduce teensmoking, that everybody knows will not have very much influence, ifany, on the problem.

I'm going to stick with the public health servants ofthis country. I'm going to stick with the people who know what ittakes to do the job. And most importantly, we're going to stick withthe children and their future. And I hope, therefore, that we canstill stay in here and keep working, get a bill that will increasethe price of cigarettes enough to deter smoking, that will havestrong advertising restrictions, that will have strong accessrestrictions, that will invest in public health and do somethinghonorable for the tobacco farmers.

Now, the Republican majority may want the tobaccocompanies to run the Congress on this issue. I don't. I think weought to do this for the people. I think we ought to vote likeparents, not politicians, and I still hope we can do that.

Q Mr. President, did both Democrats and Republicansget a little too greedy, put too much on this bill? That's certainlybeen suggested.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just remind you that thisbill passed the committee 19-1. This was almost unanimously votedout of a committee that had a Republican majority. You have peoplevoting against this bill who voted for it in committee, afterimprovements have been made to it.

And some of the Republicans said, well, there is toomuch spending on health care and other things in this bill. So wesaid, okay, we'll take the bill to relieve the marriage penalty oncouples of under $50,000. Others said, there ought to be somethingfor drugs in here along with tobacco. So we said, okay, we'll agreeto put some money in here to fight drugs. Others said, well, weought to have some limits on lawyers' fees. So we said, okay, we'llhave some limits on lawyers' fees.

Every major amendment -- every major amendment -- wassponsored by a member of the Republican majority. So they voted thebill out 19 to 1. They got their major amendments. They all got onrecord voting for these amendments. And then they turn around andkill the bill, which leads us to believe that they intended to killthe bill all along; they just wanted enough good votes to try toconvince the voters back home that they really didn't want to killthe bill -- they just had to.

Now, again, the American Cancer Society, the AmericanHeart Association, the Lung Association -- these people don't have$40 million, along with the medical associations. They didn't havethe $40 million to run ads to mislead the American people about this.But they will be around when the ads stop running, and I think theAmerican people can figure it out.

So I still hope that something in the way of conscienceand good sense and good judgment will strike the Congress and we'lldo this.

Q You're against a slimmed-down bill?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I'm against anything thatprovides no life saving to kids and is designed to save the politicallife of the people who vote for it, to provide them cover, but won'tsave the lives of the children. I don't see why we shouldparticipate in a charade.

Now, I have not been adamant about this. Look, I justtold you, we accepted a lot of amendments to this legislation, andevery single one of them was a Republican amendment. We have beentotally reasonable about this. But the parameters should be theprinciples I outlined from the beginning that everyone involved whois a public health expert knows is necessary if we want to be seriousabout the problem.

Now, if we don't want to be serious about the problem, Idon't think we ought to be looking for cover. The politicians whodon't want to do it ought to look the American people in the eye andsay, look, the tobacco companies have got a lot of power around here,they've helped us a lot, and we can't cross them. Or they ought tosay, I just don't believe in this. They ought to just stand up andsay, I simply don't believe in this.

But I am not going to participate in a charade whichprovides people with some cover to pretend that they did somethingthey didn't. That would be wrong.

Q With regard to Japan, Mr. President, did PrimeMinister Hashimoto give you any schedule for carrying out the reformshe pledged? And do you think it's important that they act beforeparliamentary elections in three weeks?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not in a position to know whetherthey can do that. What he said to me -- and perhaps I should startwith what I said to him. I said to him that the United States wantedto support the Japanese economic recovery, and that we had a bigstake in it, that our economy depended upon it, and that in a largersense the whole Asia Pacific region depended upon a Japanese economicrecovery; but that no short-term efforts would work unless there wasa serious, long-term, very comprehensive commitment to economicreform -- nothing that Secretary Rubin and Mr. Summers haven't saidrepeatedly in other forums.

He said to me that they were prepared to issue astatement which would be clear and specific about what they intendedto do in a timely fashion. He did not say whether it would be beforeor just after the parliamentary elections, but he said he would notdelay about it.

Q Mr. President, do you think that those who opposetrade with China have isolationist blinders on, as the PressSecretary said? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I'm glad you put the last phrase inthere so I -- (laughter). I never want to disagree with Mr. McCurry.

Well, I believe that, first of all, I think trade withChina is important to promote stability in China and throughout theAsia Pacific region. Secondly, I think it's the biggest country inthe world, a big market, and they're growing, and the American peopleought to be able to get the benefit of selling to the Chinese.

None of that should prevent us from disagreeing withthem. Keep in mind, we're not asking for anything special for Chinahere. All we're saying is, if you look at all the other countries inthe world that we trade with, with whom we have seriousdisagreements, there is no principled, grounded distinction betweenChina and some of the other countries that we have normal tradingrelationships with for saying we're not going to have them withChina.

And I think that we had worked very hard and had made alot of progress over the last few years in having a principled debateabout Chinese policy that was unencumbered by the politics of themoment, and I'm afraid that has slipped up a little bit in the lastfew weeks. But I hope we can get back to it.

You know, there are a lot of people who disagree with meon this. But you just can't draw a distinction between China and alot of other countries we have serious disagreements with, but wedon't have abnormal trade relations with. The idea that Americashould just stop talking to and stop dealing with any country in theworld that does anything we disagree with and that that will makethem more likely to do what we agree with, I think there is verylittle evidence to support that and there's a whole lot of evidenceagainst it. We tend to get more done when we work with people, whenwe disagree with them openly, when we push them, and when they havesomething to gain by working with us. Most people don't respond verywell to threats and to isolation.

And once in a while it works when you've got -- incertain specific cases. I mean, the trade sanctions worked in SouthAfrica after many years because everybody supported them. And theyhelped us in Bosnia because everybody supported them. And theyhelped us in Iraq because it had the U.N. behind it. But here's a

case where I think we've got far more to gain with a constructiveengagement with China. It's a very great country with enormouspotential, that has cooperated with us in many areas to make theworld a safer place in the last few years. And we have now found aforum and a way in which we can honorably express our disagreementsand believe we can make some progress on. This is the last time tobe making a u-turn and going back to a policy we know won't work whenwe've got a policy that is working. We need patience and disciplineand determination to stay with what we're doing.

Q Mr. President, are you worried about the economiceffects of the GM strike? And what is your administration strategyfor possible intervention or at least a resolution?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've been briefed on it,obviously, on a regular basis by Secretary Herman. And I'm sure youknow that under the governing laws of the United States the role ofthe federal government in a strike like this is limited. But I wouldlike to encourage the parties to work it out. Our economy is doingwell, our auto industry is doing well. They have some, apparently,very legitimate and substantial differences, but we've got acollective bargaining system which I support and I think they canwork it out and I hope they'll do it in a timely fashion.

Q Thank you.

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