Press Briefing by Press Secretary Joe Lockhart
For Immediate Release November 17, 1999


Conrad International Hotel
Istanbul, Turkey

9:30 P.M. (L)

Q Budget deal?

MR. LOCKHART: There is a meeting that's beginning at this moment on the Hill between the lead negotiators from the White House and the two parties on the Hill. We have some issues that we're continuing to work through. We've made progress over the last couple days, since I've talked to you last. Hopefully, they will be able to resolve some remaining issues and reach a deal.

Q Why is the President willing to accept an across-the-board spending cut when he vetoed one just two weeks ago?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's a big difference between where we were a few weeks ago, when they were talking about a 1 percent, across-the-board cut with no management flexibility and what they're talking about now.

It's very clear from our negotiating that this is a hard and fast, bottom line position for the Republicans. The number -- not so much the number, but somehow the symbolic value of an across-the-board cut. But what we're looking at here now is something which is about a third of one percent, and which the President got a commitment from Speaker Hastert that there would be management flexibility. That is, the agencies will be able to go in and look at where they can save money, rather than have the projects that Congress has dictated in earmarks be protected, and having them go after things like personnel, which is not protected, so that's very important.

I think, overall, if you look at this, there's quite a contrast in the approaches of the two parties. The Republicans this year made much of political symbolism. They decided that the centerpiece of their legislative agenda was going to be a tax cut they couldn't pay for and the public didn't support. They spent half the year pushing that before they dropped that.

Now, at the end, symbolism again remains very important for them. We now have less than one-third of a percent reduction across government spending that's impact with the management flexibility will be de minimus. But they believe that this is what they want to have to make a political statement.

I think on the other hand, the Democrats have worked very hard with the President to do things like put 100,000 teachers in the classroom, put 50,000 cops on the street, protect the environment, pay our U.N. dues, be engaged around the world, and I think those are very real accomplishments and will be what the public remembers about this budget and this budget sees.

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