Press Briefing by Joe Lockhart (8/31/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                           August 31, 2000

                              PRESS BRIEFING
                               JOE LOCKHART

                     The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EDT

     MR. LOCKHART:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the White House
briefing.  Let me start with just a quick update on some of the things that
the federal government is involved in, as far as fighting the fires that
have been going now for some time in the western part of the United States.

     I know most of you probably saw the declaration on Montana yesterday.
There has been a request from the state of Idaho.  FEMA has expedited -- or
is expediting their review process, and when that process is complete we
will announce a decision on that.

     There is a battalion, an additional battalion of Marines from Camp
Lejeune, which will deploy tomorrow to Idaho.  It's about a 500-person
battalion.  As far as funding, I expect very shortly the paperwork will be
continued that will release an additional $90 million in contingency
funding that could be done as early as the next few hours.

     All of this I expect the President today will make some reference to
in thanking the fire fighters at the top of the estate tax event -- as far
as thanking them for the really heroic work that's been going on over the
last few weeks and bringing you all up to date on what we are doing to try
to help fight these fires.

     I think that's it on announcements.  I'll take your questions.

     Q    On the fires, how do you respond to the criticism that's come out
of some of the governors in west that say that by cutting back on logging
the national forest it has allowed a fire field to build up and that it
would have been a smarter policy to do some thinning in those forests.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, first off, on the question of logging, there is
no evidence now that any of the logging has contributed to an increase in
the wildfires.  We are looking at -- as you all know, the President asked
for a 30-day report from the relevant agencies, what we can do here to look
at the situation.  But we have implemented over the last four or five years
new forest management policies that have built on 20 or 30 years of what
many have argued was neglect, that has increased what we've done, as far as
removing brush and small trees through mechanical thinning and prescribed
burns.  As far as the charge on the logging, there just is no evidence
that's true.

     And I think the vast majority of public officials have taken the right
approach here, which is we're all working together, the federal government
is doing an enormous amount.  But you cannot understate what state and
local officials, what even -- there are fire fighters coming from beyond
the United States to help battle these flames.  And I just think that those
who have chosen to make this partisan are misguided, and it doesn't help
put out a single fire to engage in a partisan debate here.

     I think most people know -- I think if you look at the comments made
publicly, and certainly privately, from the Governor of Montana yesterday,
he was very gratified that the federal government could move as quickly as
it could to help with the problems that he's facing in his state and I
think others should take that same approach.

     Q    Joe, what do you think the prospects are that you can stop an
override in the House of the estate tax?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think the prospects are very good.  I think the more
people look at estate tax and the more people look at the Democratic
alternative, both in the House and the Senate, you will realize what a
straightforward debate this is.  It's a debate between two different
economic philosophies.  The Democrats have argued successfully over the
last seven years, led by the President, that we need a philosophy of fiscal
discipline that pays down our debt, goes from deficits to surpluses, and
provides targeted tax relief.

     The Republicans, on the other hand, have put forward policies that, if
enacted, would lead us back to deficits, and have skewed the benefits of
any tax plan to those who need it the least.  I think if you look at their
repeal and just look at the numbers, they're quite staggering:  50 percent
of the benefit of the estate tax repeal put forward by the Republicans will
go to 3,000 families, averaging a $7 million tax cut.

     Now, the one thing I think we can all agree on -- although there's
some debate over who gets credit -- but those 3,000 families have done
pretty darn well over the last seven years.  And we face a choice now
whether we're going to continue to pay down the debt, which leads to high
growth, low interest rate environment -- or whether we want to turn around.
     And I think that it is fiscally irresponsible to put forward a plan
that would squander the surpluses, but also would squander it in a way
that's so unfair to the vast majority of Americans.  There's all sorts of
statistics out there.  You can put a lot of people on tractors and drive
them around Capitol Hill, but it doesn't change the numbers because facts
are quite stubborn.

     There are something like -- there was a report out from a group today
that said something like one-third of small businesses were subject to
estate tax problems.  Well, the numbers tell quite a different story if you
look at them in a realistic way.  There were only about a thousand small
businesses in this country in 1998 that were subject to estate tax, that
were big enough that would have to pay some estate tax.  There are 25
million small businesses in this country -- 25 million.

     There's less than a thousand family farms that were subject to estate
tax.  Now, that doesn't mean the problems that those people face aren't
real.  But those people -- the problems that they face have been addressed
in the reform of estate tax and the raising of the caps that we've done
over the last six or seven years, and would be completely addressed in the
Democratic alternative that's been put forward -- which can be done in a
way we can afford, that's fiscally responsible, that allows us on the path
to continue to pay down the debt and doesn't skew it so far to the top 1
percent or 2 percent and provide things like a $7 million tax break to
3,000 families.

     Q    -- of the Democratic alternative envisions --

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, there's two different -- there's a bill in the
House and there's a bill in the Senate.  I think the bill in the Senate is
more generous than the one in the House.  But it basically raises the caps,
particularly for small businesses and family farms to the point where there
would be virtually no family farms or businesses that would be subject to
the estate tax.

     But it's done in a way that you're not going to have the kind of out
year spending, or out year cost that will balloon.  The Republicans want to
tell you that this is only going to cost a little over a hundred billion
dollars, because they phase it in slowly over 10 years.  What they won't
tell you is it's going to cost you $750 billion for the next 10 years.
That's $750 billion.

     I think the American public believes we've worked too hard to reverse
the economic mismanagement of this country and built surpluses to throw it
away on a piece of legislation that, on average, provides $800,000 tax
break to the top 1 percent of earners in this country.  And if you look at
the benefit, half of it goes to only 3,000 families, giving them, on
average, $7 million.  That's the kind of policy that we rejected.

     Q    What's your answer to the Republican charges?  There seems to be
a drum beat now in weakened military readiness.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I think that it's obvious why they're doing it.
The last two or three weeks have not been good for the Republican ticket;
they have finally had to get around to talking about issues, health care,
who's got the right economic program for the future.  So they're looking
for an issue.

     I think what's very disappointing about it is that former Secretary of
Defense Cheney has taken the lead in leading a partisan attack on this
country's military.  Now, again, the facts here are stubborn things.  So
let's talk a little bit about the facts.

     If you look at readiness -- which is where they seem to have focused
-- three of the four military services are more ready today than they were
when we inherited.

     Q    Which ones are they?

     MR. LOCKHART:  The Marines, the Air Force, the Army; I think the Navy
had a slight, I think a 3 percent down tick in readiness.  The military
today is more educated, it is more experienced than the military that we
inherited.  And readiness remains an issue that we all have to face.

     Now, I don't say any of these things in a manner that would try to
diminish the service that former Secretary Cheney provided to this country,
I don't think anyone should.  But he knows full well readiness is always an
issue that there should be a bipartisan consensus on -- there is one now.
And for him to go and make a partisan attack on the military, on the
Commander in Chief, I think that diminishes his service.  And that's
something that he really should think long and hard about before he

     I also think if you look at the other rhetoric, that he now has an
obligation to come forward and say which deployments he was opposed to.
Was he against our action in Haiti?  Was he against our action of returning
peace to Sarajevo and Bosnia?  Was he against reversing ethnic cleansing in
Kosovo?  Was he against eight years of containment of Saddam Hussein and
his weapons of mass destruction?

     I think those are questions he should answer, and in answering them he
will need to acknowledge that all of those things were issues that we
inherited in 1993 -- not because the previous administration had failed,
because there was a new President, there was a new Commander in Chief.  And
I think there is a risk when things aren't going well for you politically
to take cheap shots and try to run people down in a partisan way.  And I
don't think it serves anyone to any purpose to try to diminish Secretary
Cheney's service, because I don't think that's appropriate.  But I think
continuing along the lines he has does that, in and of itself.

     Q    Joe, to follow that, one issue that comes up among Republicans is
that several thousand service people are on food stamps.  Is that true, and
what do you do about it?

     MR. LOCKHART:  There are certainly quality of life issues.  But these
have been addressed.  There was the largest post-Cold War pay raise last
week, the President put forward a budget that raised defense spending over
the next five years by $112 billion.  And I'll tell you something, there
was bipartisan support for this effort.  There was not the sort of partisan
finger-pointing last year when we addressed these problems.  Let me give
you a couple of examples of that.

     Tom DeLay, no friend of the White House, no friend of -- and certainly
a frequent foil from this podium -- said that in signing FY 2000, today's
decision by the President shows that we can work together and find
agreement on the important issues facing this country.  The Chairman of the
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Jerry Lewis, called FY 2001 a fabulous
piece of work.  We have similar comments from Senator Ted Stevens, Senator
John McCain, Senator Pete Domenici, who all understand that this isn't a
partisan issue and that we can work together and we have worked together.

     We have the finest fighting force in the world, we have ongoing issues
-- the need to make sure that the quality of life is improving for
servicemen, that we're ready, that we increase funds for procurement, that
they have the tools that they need to protect this country -- all of that's
been done, it's all been done on a partisan basis.  And I think the
Republican attacks ring hollow, they represent a certain frustration on
their part, which is -- you know, you don't like having bad weeks in
campaigns, but it happens from time to time; and ultimately indicate a real
sense that some of their discussion of positive campaigning and bringing us
together and not dividing us also rings hollow.

     Q    Joe, I just came from the U.N. World Religious Conference.  It
was a great conference.  Spiritual leaders from around the world, but only
one setback and one great spiritual leader was missing -- Dalai Lama.
There were a number of demonstrations outside by the Tibetans and
Americans, and they were blaming Kofi Annan, the Secretary of the U.N..
Also, they say that some blame should be taken by the U.S., because
everybody came under pressure from China.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I'm not familiar with the conference, but our
position on the Dalai Lama has been quite clear.  He's been to this
building several times and it's a position that we state regularly and
often with the Chinese government.

     Q    Speaking of the U.N. Millennium Summit, will President Clinton
meet with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and is there any
possibility that he'll meet with Mr. Khatami from Iran?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Let me tell you that I know we have confirmed that the
President will meet with Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak.  The
President will have a number of other meetings with world leaders over the
course of the three days in New York.  But I plan to detail that in its
entirety rather than a piecemeal basis, hopefully maybe Monday -- maybe
Tuesday we'll go through the whole schedule.

     Q    Is he going to meet with General Musharraf from Pakistan?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think that answer indicated that question I won't

     Q    And Prime Minister of India is of course coming in next week.  Is
the President ready to welcome him?  And on the 16th.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Yes, the following week.  If he was going to be here
next week, he'd be ready to welcome him.  He'll really be ready to welcome
him the following week.

     Q    But what I'm saying is really, according to a letter that was
circulated by some groups here, the Indian group, on the same morning when
the President will be welcoming the Prime Minister here at 9:30 a.m. in the
morning, and there is a conference at the State Department which they said
with the blessing of the White House and the State Department, that -- in
the State Department's Acheson Auditorium.  Now, isn't this something,
really, because many in the Indian community feel that this is an insult to
the Prime Minister's visit and maybe because of dividing the community?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Despite that being a long question, I think I can
answer it succinctly by saying, no.

     Q    Any further contacts between now and the millennium summit that
the President has plans to make on Middle East peace, following up on the
Mubarak --

     MR. LOCKHART:  There are a series of discussions that continue, but
I'm not going to try to predict how and if the President would be involved
in any of those discussions.

     Q    Jumping back to the wildfires, do you have any estimate of how
much it will cost to fight them this year?  There's been reports of $1

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, we have, currently now, dedicated, I think it's
$836 million, both in contingency money and appropriated money.  And there
are discussions that are ongoing that will look at sort of what the overall
outlay.  But at this point, the total fire fighting appropriation again,
both in appropriated money and contingencies.  This includes the $90
million that I mentioned at the top here, that $836 million.

     Q    What are the President's plans for this holiday weekend?

     MR. LOCKHART:  For this holiday weekend, I think the President
sometime tomorrow will head up to upstate New York.  He will spend the
weekend in upstate New York, traveling to Chappaqua on Sunday, hopefully
spend a quiet day there and be back here midday Monday, maybe later Monday.

     Q    Does he have anything on his schedule for tomorrow before he

     MR. LOCKHART:  I don't have a schedule for tomorrow.  We'll let you
know later in the day.

     Q    Joe, one more on the Prime Minister's visit.  A number of Indian
officials have been visiting this White House and State Department, the
Capitol to prepare for the Prime Minister's visit, including -- is here,
the former Secretary of India.  Do you have any idea, any special things
are going on that is going to be taking place during his visit here, during
the Prime Minister's visit.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Obviously, we'll give you a more detailed rundown
closer to the time.  But the President very much looks forward to his
meeting with the Prime Minister and with the team the Prime Minister will
bring along with him.  I know they will have the chance of being here a
couple of days to do some other things while in Washington, and the
President very much looks forward to hosting the Prime Minister at a state

     Q    Does this White House President concern that the Prime Minister
has postponed two days his visit because he's not feeling well?

     MR. LOCKHART:  No.

     Q    Joe, did the President speak with Dennis Hastert at all on the
plane about possibilities of compromise, in terms of legislative issues --
particularly the patients' bill of rights?

     MR. LOCKHART:  The President had the opportunity on the way down
yesterday to talk to the Speaker.  I think most of that conversation was
dominated by what they planned to do in Colombia.  They had an opportunity
on the flight back to turn to some more domestic items.  They had a good
discussion on a number of fronts.  Again, it was a good discussion, but
we'll have to see when Congress returns whether this will be a season of
cooperation and accomplishment or a season of partisanship.

     Q    Regarding the estate tax, is there any particular reason why the
White House is highlighting this estate tax veto in comparison to the
marriage veto?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I think we -- I don't even remember when we did
the marriage veto, but this estate tax, I think, fundamentally illustrates
the different economic approaches that we take.  This is a $750-billion tax
cut that will -- $750 billion plus interest into the surplus that we've
worked so hard to build in this country, along with the economic
prosperity, that primarily goes to a small handful of the most well off in

     And the Republicans believe that this is a sure-fire political winner
for them, they plan to highlight this.  We believe that it is bad policy.
It is bad policy to take what Americans have worked so hard for and turn
around and whatever silver object they want to put it in, or on, provide
such a large tax break to such a small group of wealthy Americans who have
done quite well over the last eight years.

     Q    Joe, is the administration confident the going into this final
fall push that you have the upper hand with the Republicans?  This past
week, they talked about making a deal on raising the minimum wage.

     MR. LOCKHART:  I will repeat what I've said over this year and in
previous years, which is November elections tend to focus people's
attention.  And there are a lot of items that we've been pushing for all
year that may not appeal to the special interests, but do appeal to the
national interests and to Americans across this country -- whether it be
prescription drugs, and when I say that I mean a real prescription drug
benefit within Medicare, not a phoney plan that even private insurance
companies will tell you won't work, even the one state that tried it says
now it didn't work because nobody subscribed to it, not a single insurance
company; raising the minimum wage and a number of other issues.

     It's certainly our hope that as they come back from their summer
vacation and as they face the idea that they face their constituents in
November, the Republicans will be less attuned to the frequency of the
special interests and more to their own constituents.  If that is the case,
that bodes well for getting a lot done this September.

     Q    What do you feel is the -- do you have any sense of what the
feeling in the country is toward a tax cut -- a big tax cut?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think the -- if you look at, and if you go out and
you talk to people, you find people are very interested in the idea of
keeping this economic prosperity going.  And the way they think we can do
that is by continuing to pay down the debt -- the President, as you all
know, has a plan to pay it off completely by 2012; continuing to invest in
the things that are important, that help us grow, whether it be education
or health care; and then provide tax cuts that make sense.  The President
has a very vigorous tax cut program.  In the presidential campaign, Al Gore
and George Bush have very different tax cut programs, but they're both

     And they are tax cuts that make sense; they're tax cuts that help
people in the middle class in this country who need help -- whether it's
sending their kids to college or taking care of a loved one who needs
long-term care.  And I think they look at things like the estate tax that
the President will veto today and believe that it's the politics of the
past and the kind of economic policy that will return us to a time of
economic uncertainty and deficit spending.

     Q    Joe, along the lines of cooperation, I guess Trent Lott has
apparently written a letter in which he says that he believes the White
House is going to try to engineer a train wreck this autumn.  Can you
respond to that?

     MR. LOCKHART:  It's one of the most peculiar things.  Over the last
two or three days, any time a Republican in Congress gets near a reporter
they talk about a train wreck.  There's nobody here talking about it.
There is absolutely no reason in the world we can't work out our spending
priority differences and we can't do it in a timely way.

     I sense that the purpose of the letter is to provide a little bit of
political cover, or static, to disguise the fact that they haven't gotten
their work done.  This is my third year standing at this podium at this
time of year, and it's my third year where I will say over the next 30 days
-- probably once a day -- they haven't gotten their work done.  It gets
tiring, I'm sure, to hear; it gets tiring to say.  But they haven't.

     The Senate, I think, has passed two appropriations bills out of 13 --
I don't know, I may have that number wrong, but it's in that range.

     Q    Why do you think that is?

     MR. LOCKHART:  They have got their own issues within the caucus of
what their priorities are.  But the bottom line is we're coming -- you
know, Labor Day is over, we're coming to the final stretch, and we've got a
long way to go.

     There is, though, having said all of that, absolutely no reason they
can't get their work done.  We will work with them; we will work together.
But they need to understand that we're going to come with priorities,
priorities about investing in health care, investing in education, making
sure we protect our environment.  And they need to understand that we will
have problems if they decide that those are not their priorities, and that
those shouldn't be priorities for this country.

     Q    Joe, the 3,000 families at $7 million a pop, that doesn't add up
to $750 billion.  That would imply that --

     MR. LOCKHART:  That's 50 percent.  There's another 50 percent of
people who get less than $7 million.  But if you look at the average, this
goes to the top 2 percent of households, because 98 percent -- I mean, this
may come as news to 98 percent of Americans, but 98 percent of Americans
don't pay estate tax,  because their estates aren't large enough, or
because of the reforms that we've implemented over the last seven years,
which is gradually raising the cap up, which started, when this President
took over, at $600,000.  I think it will finish at close to a million.

     There's been a number of things we've done on looking at dealing
specifically with small businesses and family farms about low or no
interest loans for people who don't come in.  There is a number of estate
planning techniques that a lot of Americans use to manage estate tax

     But if you look at the Republican plan, it goes to a very small group
of people, and if you look at what the average of that is on a whole, it's
about 800,000.  If you look at the proportion of the benefit, the 50
percent goes to a very small group which is only 3,000.  But let me tell
you, the 3,000 number is indicative of something, which is these are all
very small numbers.  I think in 1998, only 54,000 families and estates were
subject to estate tax.  It's a very small number of people.  And the
Republicans are basically making an argument that the sort of biggest piece
of their tax cut, the centerpiece of their economic strategy, should go to
benefitting a very tiny portion of the American public.

     Listen, they can -- again, they can drive tractors around the Capitol
and stand and do a dance on them if they think that's a winner.  They
should do that.  We don't think so.  We think it's bad policy.  We think
the American people understand that.  And that's why the President will be
making that case today.

     Q    Why does it grow so rapidly from $100 billion in the first 10
years to $750 billion -- is that in the next 10 years?

     MR. LOCKHART:  That's because the repeal is implemented and phased in
very, very slowly.  Because they want to be able to make the argument that
this doesn't cost so much.  And so they'll say $105 billion over 10 years.
Well, it's $750 billion over the next 10 years, once it's all fully phased
     Q    From year --

     MR. LOCKHART:  Listen, the irony of this is the farmer who drove his
tractor around the Capitol and came down here would be better off under the
Democratic plan because, based on the published reports about his farm and
his circumstances, the Democratic plan isn't phased in over 10 years.  He
would get his benefit.  If something unfortunate happened in his family, he
would get the benefit and would be better off under the Democrats.  But
it's all about pictures.

     Q    Pardon me if you've answered this already, but earlier this week
the Speaker sent a letter to the President offering a deal on minimum wage
and small business related tax cuts.  Do you know if they had a chance to
talk at all on the plane to or from Colombia, and whether they've struck
any kind of deal on this?

     MR. LOCKHART:  There's no deal.  There's, obviously, some work that
needs to be done on the issue of minimum wage.  But, listen, the President
had a good conversation with Speaker Hastert on a number of issues last
night on the flight back from Colombia.  Particularly on minimum wage, I
think it's very significant and potentially important if the Republicans
are truly committed to backing off their opposition to raising the minimum
wage a dollar over two years.  We take their offer in good faith.  We will
work with them.  And it's certainly our hope that when we get to the
details they truly are committed to something the President has talked
about for two years, something Representative Gephardt, Minority Leader
Daschle -- Senator Daschle -- has talked about, and we'll have to see when
they come back.

     Q    To follow up, is the hitch on the timing of the minimum wage
increase -- they want to do it a dollar -- 50 cents next January, another
50 cents the January after that?  Or is it on the tax component of it?

     MR. LOCKHART:  I think that we're going to have to look at both the
timing and some of the other issues that were raised and what the
legislation will look like.  And I think we're also going to have to see
where the Senate is on this.

     Q    Is that $1 million inheritance figure set in stone, or could it
possibly be repealed?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Oh, I think it's -- the $1 million has gone up from
$600,000 over a period of years.  If the House would put the Senate -- if
the House would put the Democratic alternative on the floor, and the Senate
could vote on it, we could get the President's approach to this, we would
address the issues of the $1 million, of the family farms, of small
businesses.  Because there are some who are subject to estate tax -- it's a
small amount.  But that represents kind of the phoniness in this debate.

     This debate isn't about the estate tax, because if it was we would
have a real, good faith debate where we go and we try to target relief to
family farms, and we try to target relief to small businesses as the
Democrats have tried to.  What it's really about is giving a huge tax
break, $7 million to 3,000 families.  That's what it's really about.

     Q    Joe, there are indications that the Saudis would be willing to
increase their oil output by 500,000 barrels a day at their September 10
meeting.  Is that a sufficient amount for you?  Is that what you've been
pushing for?

     MR. LOCKHART:  Well, I'm not going to get into our conversations or
particular numbers as far as output.  We've made our views clear, both
publicly and privately, about what we think is in the interest of both
producers and consumers in the world at this point, and that prices remain
at a level that both producers and consuming countries have targeted as

     So we will continue that effort, and I understand there will be
discussion at the September 10th meeting about how to bring the price more
in line, in relation to production and capacity.

     Q    Thank you.

     MR. LOCKHART:  Thank you.

                          END                    1:38 P.M. EDT

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