THE WHITE HOUSE|
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 29, 2000
CHIEF OF STAFF JOHN PODESTA
TO INTERNET PRESS ORGANIZATIONS
Chief of Staff's Office
11:14 A.M. EDT
MR. PODESTA: Let me start and just say a couple of things, and
then take your questions. We thought this would be a good time to get
everybody in here and get together and let you ask some questions. This
week has been -- we've had a couple of remarkable announcements that the
President has participated in. On Tuesday the Census numbers came out
showing that the poverty rate had fallen to the lowest level in 20
years. The poverty rate for African Americans had fallen to the lowest
level on record. We had income growth amongst all quintiles, reversing
a trend we saw in the 1980s.
With very strong income growth since 1993, adjusted for inflation,
American median -- families -- for Americans, income have grown by more
than $6,000. The poverty rate for elderly Americans has fallen below 10
percent for the first time in history. Then on Wednesday, the President
announced that our budget surplus for the year -- fiscal year 2000 would
be at least $230 billion, so that we will -- by the end of this fiscal
year, which ends on Saturday, we will have paid off $360 billion worth
of debt over the past three years.
I think what that says is that we're clearly on the right path.
We're on the right path economically and we're on the right path from
the perspective of social policy in this country. And then the question
is, can we maintain that, can we keep that momentum going in the waning
days of this Congress?
During the course of this year, we've been speaking about a lot of
different issues and a lot of different initiatives that the President
put on the table in his State of the Union. We met with the bipartisan
leadership early in September to try to wrap the work up, given that so
precious little had been done. And yet, we exit the fiscal year with 11
of the 13 appropriations bills still unfinished, with nothing being done
to raise the minimum wage, nothing being done to pass a real patient's
bill of rights, nothing being done to provide a prescription drug
benefit for Medicare.
So we're frustrated, but we're still hard at work, and I think the
next couple of weeks will tell whether the American people will see some
results of this session of Congress. We're committed to staying on the
fiscal path that brought the good news that I mentioned at the
beginning, and we're committed to trying to put aside partisanship and
try to work with Congress to see if we can get some of these things
done. But the next two weeks will tell for the American people, so we
thought this was a good time to get together.
I'll open it up.
Q Can I ask you about minimum wage? Are you guys actively
talking to the leadership about a bill that would tie together minimum
wage and small business tax relief?
MR. PODESTA: As you know, since August we've been talking to the
Speaker's office about that. They've put on the table three things.
One, finally agreeing to raise the minimum wage by a dollar, which has
been resisted by the Republican leadership, but they wanted to couple
that with some small business tax relief and changes in the overtime
laws, which we thought were unnecessary and would undermine important
projections of overtime for American workers.
So we've been discussing that package through the course of the
month. I think we think that the package they originally proposed is
too big and they've directed it towards relief for businesses who might
be impacted by a rise in the minimum wage, but in fact, a chunk of that
has very little to do with that. So, we're in discussions with them. I
think we can work out something with them to provide small business tax
relief, that we could couple a package of tax relief that's aimed at
those businesses with a dollar increase in the minimum wage, if they're
willing to drop the changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which
protects workers with regard to overtime.
Q John, what's the administration's opinion of the language
worked out on Cuba sanctions, on the Cuba trade and ag approps bill?
MR. PODESTA: At least as of this morning, the only people who have
seen it are the Republican members of that conference committee, so we
have not actually seen the language, at least of a basically an hour
ago, the last time I checked.
So we're anxious to see it, and as you know, the President has been
in favor of increasing people to people contacts, and increasing ways in
which we can have -- which can support the Cuban people without
supporting the Cuban government. But we haven't seen the final
language, so hopefully that's something that we could find some common
Q How about on the drug reimportation language that the Senate
seems to be rapidly increasing its interest in?
MR. PODESTA: Well, obviously that issue has kind of taken off this
week. We're interested in pursuing that. We think the Senate language
that passed which permits the Federal Food and Drug Administration to
insure the safety and quality of drugs is the right way to go. We are,
based on the discussions between the Republican leaders in the House and
the President and the letters that went back and forth between the
leadership, we're optimistic that we can work something out.
But I would add two things to that. One is, there has to be
adequate funding at the Food and Drug Administration to insure that the
system that is set up, which would permit the importation of drugs, can
be monitored so that the drugs are safe and effective. And secondly,
quite frankly, this isn't a substitute for real insurance for people who
need a drug benefit.
So, we haven't given up on trying to pursue a drug benefit through
Medicare. We're going to continue to press the case. While this could
give some modest relief on pricing for all Americans -- and we think
that's a good thing, if set up right, and the safety of jobs in insured
-- in the long run, what we really need is protection under Medicare for
our senior citizens for their drug costs.
Q But if the bill meets your satisfaction on funding and other
regulatory language, you'll accept it without a full drug benefit,
MR. PODESTA: The President's indicated, in his letter to the
Speaker and Senator Lott that he would accept it, but as I said, it's
not a substitute for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, but it would
provide some modest price relief, and we think that's a good thing.
Q Is there any other common ground?
MR. PODESTA: You know, there are other Medicare issues that we're
working on as well, like picking up the Vice President's suggestion of
having a real Medicare lockbox that takes Medicare off budget, and uses
Medicare receipts only for the Medicare program. So we'd like to see
that done. There's obviously some interest in that on a bipartisan
basis on the Hill, as I say.
So these things can be broken up, and we can pursue them
individually, but quite frankly, it's good to see that the iron grip of
the pharmaceutical industry might be finally breaking on Capitol Hill,
and at least the heat is on, and the Republican leaders have now
indicated their support for this reimportation provision.
Q Are there going to be H1-B visa legislation on the omnibus
legislation, and would it be the --
MR. PODESTA: Well, I don't know whether it will be -- first of
all, I don't know whether there will be any omnibus legislation,
although everyone assumes that there will be. Secondly, I don't know
whether H1-B visas will be included in that. It's possible that H1-B
visas will move separately. The bill that is, I think, just about to
pass the Senate, is in shape that if it went over to the House, we would
still like to see some additional improvements in that bill.
We think, again, there's sort of bipartisan agreement on this. We
think the fee ought to be raised, and those monies ought to be used for
training workers in the United States, and with those improvements, I
think that bill could be sent down here separately for the President to
sign, and that will be a good thing.
We have, obviously, also been pressing hard to have Congress
consider and enact the Hispanic immigration fairness package, and we're
going to continue to press on that. We will press that in the context
of the Commerce/State/Justice appropriations bill, rather than on the
H1-B visa bill. So whether all this stuff gets lumped together at the
end or not, time will tell. But I think we will be able to make
progress and get an H1-B Visa cap rise done this Congress, and hopefully
we'll do it with other improvements that I mentioned.
Q Without the fee hike, though, will it be an acceptable piece
of legislation for the President?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that we would -- we are going to
continue to press for the fee hike. I think, as I said, there's
bipartisan agreement on that. So I think we can get that done, and I
think the reason the Senate -- my understanding is the reason the Senate
couldn't consider that is it's a revenue measure, it has to originate in
the House. So when the bill goes back to the House, I think there's
been agreement to do that by the leading supporters in the House, like
Congressman Dreier and Congresswoman Lofgren.
So we ought to get that done. We ought to probably do it on the
H1-B bill. There are obviously alternative structures to that. We
could put it into one of the appropriations bills or something like
that. But I think that there doesn't seem to be opposition to that, so
I think we'll be able to get that done this year.
Q On the New Markets legislation, there seems to be trouble in
the Senate with them loading up. This has been a really big priority
for the President. Tell me your assessment of that, and what it will
mean if we don't get this?
MR. PODESTA: Well, it remains a critical priority of ours.
Obviously, it was the -- in a Congress, I think, noted for partisanship,
the two exceptions were this New Markets legislation, and obviously
permanent normal trade relations with China, which just did pass the
Senate, and will be headed down to the White House for signature.
I think on New Markets, to go back, when the Speaker came out to
Chicago and joined the President, I think we had great hope that we
could get that, move it along quickly. I think we'll still get that
done. It's an important priority of the President's. It will help -- I
mentioned that raft of good economic news, but clearly still more needs
to be done in places that have been left behind by this great economy:
in urban America and rural America, on Indian reservations, and we think
that the ideas that were combined and passed overwhelmingly -- there
were more than 400 votes, I think, in the House for this bill -- ought
to get done. So it would be a priority of ours. And again, if there is
an omnibus at the end of the day, I would think this would be a big
candidate for it.
I think there's also actually bipartisan support for it in the
Senate, and I think Chairman Roth, in the Finance Committee, is trying
to steer a package through, but this is the time of the year where those
baubles and special interest ornaments seem to get added, especially in
the Finance Committee, especially on tax legislation.
And I think that this bill is slowing down through the normal
process of the Finance Committee and the Senate, but I think there are
others ways that we can come together and see if we can get this thing
wrapped up, find agreement between -- obviously, the Senate has some
additional ideas that they want to -- they're not going to take the
House bill lock, stock and barrel, but I think we would be happy if they
did. But I don't think that we can really expect that.
But I think we can get the two bodies together with the White House
and work out a very strong package which would mean an enormous amount
for those communities, and we're committed to getting that done.
Q There's a broadband measure on that New Markets bill that --
it's Moynihan, I think, legislation. Would the White House support that
particular measure staying on there?
MR. PODESTA: I think that there's -- you're a little beyond me,
because I haven't really set any details, but my understanding is that
that's a provision that our people would find acceptable. But again,
this depends on what the overall package is. But I think that's
something that we have supported in the committee.
Q -- today, it started out as, I think, a $17 billion bill, and
now it's up -- you say --
MR. PODESTA: Thirty Eight and growing --
Q Exactly. I mean, you say you think you'll get it done, but
will it get done without certain taxpayers snickering, well, everyone's
thrown in their little piece of pork, and it started out as a great
simple idea with the President going around the country and going to
these Indian Reservations, but is it going to survive the Congressional
MR. PODESTA: Well, as I said, the way it ought to get it done is
with a bill that is clearly aimed at the issue and the problem that
moves through the Finance Committee. If it can't get done that way,
then I think we have to find a way to get a package that really is --
that includes the best ideas of both parties, that's directed at this
New Markets initiative, put it together, and find a vehicle to get it
done. That's happened in the past, and I think we can agree to do that
at the end of this session.
Q Do you think that you'll get the drug benefit on Medicare?
MR. PODESTA: The letter that the Speaker and Senator Lott sent to
the White House on Monday basically said that they thought that there
was no chance of doing that this year. We, I think, rejected that
analysis. We still think there is time to do it. We think there's --
if there's a will to do it, there's certainly a way to do it, and we're
going to keep pressing for it. We refuse to give up on it. It's an
important legislative priority. It's the right thing to do, and it's
the right way to use resources from the surplus that has built up, to
provide people who are in serious need of getting it done. If you're
asking me to handicap the question, I think it's a stretch.
But I think that we're going to keep -- if we keep it before the
public, I think we have a chance of getting it done. I think, this
summer, when the Republicans decided to put together their bill that was
incentives to the insurance industry to provide an insurance-based
benefit for senior citizens, and the insurance industry said it wouldn't
work -- I think no one really thought it would work, but their campaign
consultants came in and said, you've just got to be for some plan, any
plan, it doesn't matter what plan, just get behind the plan, and they
ramrodded that thing through the House of Representatives.
I think those members went home and they found out that the people
in their districts were a little more sophisticated than maybe their
consultants were, and they got pressed back pretty hard on it, I think.
And so, really, it's going to take the public pressure of the American
people saying we want a benefit, we want a reasonable, decent benefit
that's going to be affordable and voluntary, and we want it through
Medicare, to get this thing over the finish line.
With a strong opposition to the pharmaceutical industry, it is
clear that we're not going to be able to break that logjam unless the
public really puts the heat on those members. Now, they're facing an
election here in just, I guess, five weeks, and maybe with a couple of
weeks left to go in this congressional session, we can change that
Q There's a couple privacy initiatives that seem to have an
outside chance of passing this year. Does the administration support
any of those? I'm talking now to the Penn Register -- adjustment of the
Penn Register legislation and any other consumer --
MR. PODESTA: As you may or may not know, I went out and put out a
package that the administration supports in July of this year, made a
speech at the Press Club, encouraging a balanced package that enhances
the privacy of American citizens, and at the same time deals with the
needs of law enforcement.
A bill just passed the House Judiciary Committee. We still would
like to see some improvements in that bill. I understand that Senators
Hatch and Schumer and Leahy are discussing that this week. We would
like to see legislation move forward on that basis that would actually
give better protection and more harmonized protection to the privacy of
American citizens, especially with regard to electronic communications,
e-mail, et cetera; and at the same time, deal with the legitimate needs
of law enforcement. And I think we could work that package out in good
faith, and I think there is probably still time to do it.
So I, personally, in part because I used to be a staff person on
the Senate Judiciary Committee and worked for Senator Leahy, I've spent
more time talking to the senators about this than I have talking with
House members. But I think they're interested in doing it. There are
different views about where the balance lays, but I think the
administration is committed to trying to work out a package with
Congress on that --
Q It seems like they're pretty keyed up on getting something
done on privacy this year, at least in the House; I assume the Senate.
But I mean, even this idea of creating a privacy commission -- has the
administration weighed in at all on that?
MR. PODESTA: I think we're open to that, but I think that
legislation feels more stalled to me. I haven't followed it as closely.
There's also legislation to give better protection of Social Security
numbers, which Vice President Gore initially proposed last spring. And
that bill looks like it may move forward, and hopefully we can get some
progress on that.
The other major privacy initiative that obviously the
administration is engaged in is doing -- working on our final rule on
protecting medical privacy. And we proposed that last October after the
Congress failed to enact comprehensive medical privacy rules; in the
Kennedy-Kassebaum legislation they gave themselves a three-year deadline
to enact comprehensive legislation. And if they fail to act, they give
the President the authority to move forward with regulation at least in
the context of electronic transmission of medical records. And we've
made a proposal on that and we've received obviously a lot of comment on
it. We're in the final throes of that, and we're committed to putting in
place final rules this year.
Q What's the status of patients' bill of rights negotiations,
which appear to have stalled in the last couple of weeks?
MR. PODESTA: We continue to talk and discuss the matter. I think
that Senator Kennedy and Congressman Norwood, the lead House sponsor,
have been talking to a variety of senators about a package that could
break a filibuster over there. We've shown willingness to try to be
flexible on some of the issues, but we're going to demand a real
patients' bill of rights, not one that leaves out 100 million Americans,
like the Senate version of the bill did, not one that doesn't guarantee
the right to see a specialist, the right to go to the nearest emergency
room, the right to have continuity of care, the right to participate in
clinical trials, and some adequate enforcement mechanisms.
I thought one of the moments that was most disappointing in the
bipartisan leadership meeting we had in early September, was when we
discussed the patients' bill of rights, and it was noted that the Senate
now had 50 votes in favor of a strong Norwood-Dingell-style patients'
bill of rights, and Senator Nickles had 58 -- enough -- a majority isn't
enough, with the Vice President to break the tie. But a majority isn't
enough; we've got to break a filibuster over there, so we're trying to
see whether we could put together a package that would get the necessary
60 votes to push something through.
Q Would you put --
MR. PODESTA: I think that's a kind of sad commentary on the state
of where this Congress is, but it appears to be the political reality.
So if we -- and again, we're talking to a number of Republican senators
about whether there's a package that could meet the test that Senator
Nickles obviously laid out for us.
Q When you handicapped the drug benefit, you said you thought it
was a stretch; an even longer stretch on patients' bill of rights, or a
MR. PODESTA: No. I think patients' bill of rights -- clearly, we
now have more than a majority; clearly there are discussions going on.
I think that there are a number of vulnerable senators who are facing
tough reelection on the Republican side. I think they're pretty nervous
about this issue. I think abandoning their constituents to making --
having medical decisions being made by HMO bureaucrats as opposed to
doctors and nurses is something that they are having a hard time selling
in their reelection campaign, so I think there is substantial energy
behind this, and I think that -- I will give credit to Congressman
Norwood and Ganske. They keep pressing ahead, they keep pushing their
leadership, and they keep pressing even on the Senate side to break this
The one thing I will say about this is, it's clear to me that on
the House side, even the House leaders, Republican leaders want to do
it. Speaker Hastert made that very clear at the beginning of this year
to the President, that the House had spoken, more than 60 Republican
members joined a unanimous Democratic caucus over there to pass a strong
bill -- the Norwood-Dingell bill, and he said, look, my chamber has
spoken, we ought to -- we would like to see some accommodation on some
things, but we're willing to try to work on a strong bill. And he
reiterated that when he met with the President when they went down to
Colombia and were coming back and had a very long conversation about
what could be done for the rest of the legislative session.
But I've described it sometime as sort of like a pentagon or with
five sides; the White House, the House and Senate Democrats, and the
House and Senate Republicans, and four of the sides want to get it done,
and one side, the Senate Republican leadership, has really dug in
against it. And we're just going to have to figure out a way that we
can try to break through that.
But I think there's still vast public interest in this, and I think
there is a commitment to try to do everything we can to see if we can
get this through. And I still think we have a reasonable chance of
Q John, what would be the adequate enforcement measures that you
spoke of? What would have to be in it for it to be acceptable to them?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think -- again, I think there is
accountability, both in terms of the internal review process as well as
external review process through an adequate mechanism -- to sue an HMO
that's denied you an essential right under the provision.
Now, we've said we would try to be flexible about that. There are
issues like, should that be in state court or federal court, et cetera.
We said we've always been open to discussing that as long as ultimately,
the right is real because the enforcement mechanism is real. We have
not tried to draw lines in the sand and say we can't step over it, but
there's got to be adequate enforcement, and we're willing to sit at a
table and try to negotiate that.
Q Do you have any sense of what give you're going to have to
make in order to get those 10 Republican senators?
MR. PODESTA: We're in discussions now to see where we go on that.
Q If there's an extension of the Internet tax bill -- that end
up alone in the appropriations bill -- you know, accepting the Internet
moratorium -- tax moratorium, would that be something the White House
would support -- was five years in the House that passed?
MR. PODESTA: Yes, I think at this point, there's obviously, I
think, a need to try to work out an accommodation between state and
local government and their legitimate needs and not interfere with
Internet commerce. But I think there's got to be a fair and balanced
package. The commission met, they could not ultimately resolve that
matter, so more discussions are taking place.
Obviously, the administration has strongly supported a
no-discriminatory taxes on the Internet policy, and I think that at this
point, we're not going to resolve these issues in the next couple of
weeks, and an extension of the moratorium makes sense, I think.
Q Five-years, though?
MR. PODESTA: I think that we'll see what comes out of the Congress
Q John, back on H-1B, as you are well aware, there's been this
raging debate about whether or not high-tech companies in fact need
these workers, or, in fact, they're just hiring less expensive ones who
are younger and require them to pay less in medical benefits and other
things. On what basis did the administration decide, what evidence did
it look at and sift through to come down on the side of the industry
that it was a real need, and that American workers, older ones or other,
would not suffer inordinately under an expansion of H-1B?
MR. PODESTA: I think that -- I think that if you look at the job
market and the skills need out there, I think you obviously see a very
tight job market and the need to have highly qualified people, and
that's why we have agreed to some increase in the number and in the
But we've always coupled that with trying to redirect the fee that
comes from that into job training so that we provide more U.S. workers
in those job categories and in those job frames. I've talked to a lot
of people from industry who are trying to hire people in that regard,
and I think we've got -- Gene's analyzed it from an economic perspective
-- Gene Sperling, and our National Economic Council understands that
there is still a need to have more workers to fill the slots so that the
economy can keep going and we can keep the productivity up of this
economy that's come in large part, I think, from not just increased
sales of high-technology products, but the use of those high-technology
products in more traditional industries.
We've got this unbelievable ramping up of productivity that we've
seen over the course of the last year in our economy that's kept
inflation low, that's kept the economy powering forward; it's obviously
the envy of the world. And, you know, we think we had a little
something to do with that -- obviously, the federal government's fiscal
house in order reversing the $290-billion deficit, creating this
surplus, put downward pressure on interest rates.
We've made the right investments in science and technology and
education, and that's, I think, created a virtual cycle which has given
the ability of business to invest, to buy these new technology products,
to raise their own productivity, and that's a powerful engine, and we
want to see that continuing and moving forward.
Part of that is having the people who have the skills to keep those
-- keep that innovation going, to keep those new products coming.
But that has to be balanced against the needs of people in our
country to have job opportunities and the right kind of training, et
cetera. I think our view is that the way to strike that balance is to,
again, put more resources into higher education. That's why the
President proposed making college tuition tax deductible this year.
That's why we had the biggest expansion of -- in the 1997 Balanced
Budget Act, we had the biggest expansion of aid to students in higher
education since the G.I. Bill, through the HOPE Scholarship and the
lifelong learning tax credit.
So I think these are a balanced set of policies that have paid
enormous dividends for the American public.
Q John, the Federal Communications Commission is looking at a
deadlock situation if Susan Ness** doesn't get through the Senate or
renominated. Is there any progress on that, or are you looking at a
recess appointment there?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think we're continuing to discuss that with
the Senate, and I think that Senator McCain has not moved the nomination
forward. I don't know whether it's ultimately blocked. We're
continuous -- you know, we're frustrated in general by the slow pace of
nominations on things like judges and Executive Branch nominees; but
we're still in discussions with the leadership on that, so I don't think
I want to say anything more about that while those discussions are
Q If the current CR ends before the Congress and the White House
finish the appropriations process, will the President sign another
week-long one or would he ask for something shorter, to try to force
them to get the work done?
MR. PODESTA: I think we're going to start having to make a
judgment on that on almost a day-to-day basis. But I think that the
President has said from the beginning of this month, when it was clear
that they weren't going to be able to meet both the statutory deadline
of finishing their work by the end of the fiscal year -- and something,
frankly, that Speaker Hastert and Senator Lott kind of stake their
reputation on, which is that they would get the appropriations business
We said we would sign short-term Crs, and I think the we may have
to go into a week-to-week basis. I don't think we want to play games
with them by making them do one every day or anything. But we're just
going to have to make judgments about that.
What I would say is that we ought to get that work done and we
ought to do it before the election, so the American people can make a
judgment about the quality of that work. I think that it is not in our
game plan to come back here after the election to finish up work that
should have been done last month.
Q On the H1-B legislation, you mentioned the Latino Fairness Act
be discussed in context of that. A lot of people have -- several people
in the Latino community felt like the White House played some politics
with it by insisting that Latino fairness legislation be part of this --
debate. I just wondered what your reaction to this --
MR. PODESTA: We weren't playing politics. It was a question of
trying to do something that was right and fair. Other avenues were
blocked; obviously, we found a different avenue, which is to deal with
this in the context of the Congress/State/Justice appropriations bill.
But many of these people who are at issue here came to this country
under extraordinary circumstances, in which their countries were at war;
they've lived here for more than a decade; their children are citizens
and they deserve a little fairness. And we ought to, while we're paying
attention to the economy, while we're paying attention and making sure
that people have good jobs or maybe paying attention to making sure that
the economy keeps powering forward, we ought to pay attention to people
who have been here for a very long time, who do pay taxes, whose
children are here and who need a little fairness in the immigration
And I think it's right and appropriate to insist on it, and we're
going to insist on it in a different context than this H1-B legislation.
And we're going to try to get that done this year.
Q For the second time the international finance meetings have
been interrupted at a major city, in Prague. They've cut the meeting
short by a day. Before those meetings, The Economist Magazine said
there ought to be a stronger defense from world leaders about
globalization, that it can be a force for good.
Does this administration have any concern about the world opinion
of globalization as an economic theory, and that it may be increasingly
jeopardized by protestors and their opposition?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that the President, obviously, has
spoken to this I think more than any world leader has. He did it when
he went to Geneva. He did it in Seattle. He did it at the ILO. He did
it at the WTO. And I think that he's pointed out to citizens in this
country and citizens around the world that open trade, more global trade
is good for the economy, it's good for development. It is important to
move not only our own economy forward, but move the economies of the
developing world forward.
But we have to listen to people who are concerned about it. The
leaders of those governments and the leaders of those economic
institutions have to be concerned about the impact on workers, on the
environment and that they have important voices. And, ultimately, it's
not going to be an old boys' club anymore, which is a process of working
things out, finding the right balance.
That's why we've pursued, I think, a strategy of opening markets
abroad, but having due respect for people's rights. That's why we've
pursued the child labor agreement that was passed and the United States
was the first country was to ratify.
So I think there needs to be balance and I think that what is
important, though, I think that, quite frankly, is that the voices be
listened to; but on the other hand, that the rule of law prevail and
that people be able to carry out their work. There's nobody probably
doing more important work, for example, than the World Bank and
development, et cetera -- some of the issues that the protestors,
themselves, say they care about, are critical. So we can't permit
protest and dissent and argument to interfere with the functioning of
those institutions. I think when those meetings took place, for
example, in the spring in Washington, people protested, but the meeting
went on. And we're going to have to find a way of dealing with it.
I think that while they're raising important concerns, I think
their solutions are fundamentally misplaced and wrong. We're just going
to have to have that debate and argue it out. I think in the long run,
10 years from now, I think the balance the President's laid out is going
to be perceived to be the one that's just about right.
Q Does he have any concern that there is not yet a solid global
consensus on this question? I think these protests could, in fact,
erode support in Europe, could erode support elsewhere, and that this
idea of open and free trade could move back two or three steps in the
coming year if the protests continue.
MR. PODESTA: I think we just -- we need to keep fighting for our
ideas. I think there is -- obviously, there is a -- and that's why I
think that he's engaged with his counterparts in Europe, especially in
these sessions that they've had in this Third Way movement with the
progressive government leaders in Europe to say that while we ought to
take these concerns under consideration, we ought to have -- our
regulatory systems ought to be science-based, we ought to have -- as
opposed to based on emotion, we ought to open trade benefits, not only
people in the developed world, but people in the developing world as
well, that economies that have embraced open trade have improved not
only their overall economic performance, but they've improved the per
capita income, and people at the lower levels of income, and that's why
I think you see movements toward opening economies, even in places that
have traditionally resisted that -- like China and in India.
Q What do you think the odds on the omnibus bill are in the end?
MR. PODESTA: You mean, one big blunder bust -- spending and tax
bill? I think that if the congressional leaders set one goal for
themselves at the beginning of this year, it was not to get in a room
the way Speaker Gingrich did in 1998 with myself, my predecessor, Jack
Lew, and so I think that they're going to try to at least break these
things up into component parts to get some of the appropriations bills
done maybe to move some of the tax issues separately.
But at the end of the day, I suspect that there are going to be
some things that just will have to get put together and passed as one
package to wrap up the work for this year.
Q John, over the next two weeks you're going to win some and
lose some. Do you, in your more optimistic moments, thinking about a
Democratic president and a Democratic House next January, thinking back
to '93 with the honeymoon prevailing if you get Family and Medical Leave
Act, if you get AmeriCorps through? Do you do any triage on what you
want most seen done in two weeks, and could you say what the top three
or four things, if you went into that weekend, saying we did a great
job, this is what they would be?
MR. PODESTA: You know what our agenda is, and I think we're
looking for opportunities to move forward on all of that. Obviously,
this is a critical election. And I think in that context -- for
example, Al Gore today laid out his economic vision, his economic
strategy, building on the success of this administration and how to
power forward with the great success that we've had.
I think that a cornerstone of that is something that I think we'll
end up still achieving this year, which is: fiscal discipline, keeping
that path, keeping us on the path to pay of the publicly-held debt by
2012. That's been a tough struggle, but we've kept on that path, and I
think that remains an over-arching priority of ours. We'd like to see a
real Social Security and Medicare lockbox enacted. There's interest in
that on both sides of the aisle. I hope we can get that done -- which
would, I think, do more than anything to ensure that we continue to use
the surpluses that are being generated to pay down the debt and move us
in the path of being debt-free by 2012.
We have critical issues on education. We want to move forward with
the program to put 100,000 teachers in the classroom to lower class
size. We want a commitment to school construction through both -- and
modernization through both the appropriations side of the -- we put
forward -- a program to provide money to states and local communities to
modernize their schools, and then we have a bond proposal on the tax
side to modernize and build new schoolrooms in this country.
We have a commitment to science and technology, which I think that,
finally yesterday the appropriators have -- which they have rejected
this summer, have decided to put some of our resources into. We want to
raise the minimum wage; I think we'll get that done. We want to pass a
patients' bill of rights; I've already talked about our chances of
getting that done.
And, obviously, a priority of ours that we've been fighting for,
for the last two years is a prescription -- is a real, affordable,
voluntary prescription drug plan through Medicare. I think that that's
the most difficult, that's the longer stretch, and that may have to end
up being decided by this election about whether you believe in Medicare,
whether you want to move forward with Medicare, whether you want to
modernize Medicare in a way.
As the President is fond of saying, if medicine was practiced in
1965 the way it's practiced today, there's no question that
prescriptions would have been included in Medicare. Or, whether you
want to go off and try to break apart and deconstruct Medicare and have
a scheme that's going to give more incentives to insurance companies.
Then, I think if you go back and you look at the debate in the
early 1960s, you will see that it was kind of a mirror of what's going
on right now on prescription drugs.
Q John, does it surprise you, given the public sentiment about
the prescription drugs, that there is not -- you very well may not have
a consensus -- bill passes in this session, given that it's an election
MR. PODESTA: Yes, it surprises me a little bit. I mean, I think
it surprises me a little bit. It's always been our view that we weren't
going to get handed anything for free in terms of our agenda that we
laid out to the American public. I think there's been a lot of
resistance to the ideas the President's put forward by the Republican
leaders. We knew we were going to have to go fight for it in public,
create public sentiment in favor of the issues I mentioned, like the
patients' bill of rights or like the school construction or the teachers
in the classroom initiative that I talked about.
We always banked on the fact that we had to have public support for
this to try to move it through, break the grip of the special interests
on this Congress. And I thought that we had a shot at doing it, and
obviously, their moving on the reimportation of drugs means that there
is pressure out there. And they are nervous about this in the context
of the election.
Now, whether there's still enough steam in that to actually push
through a prescription drug plan, the next couple of weeks will tell. I
mean, I think it's tough, but I think we're going to still try to fight
to do it.
Q What do you think is going to be the greatest
technology-policy challenge for the next administration, no matter who
MR. PODESTA: Can I have two? (Laughter.) I think that one will
be dealing with climate change, and that broadly cuts across a number of
fronts, from foreign policy to how we're going to create -- we still
believe that you can create economic incentives to provide
energy-efficient cars and appliances to really invest in renewable
resources, et cetera. But I think that will be -- I still believe that
the North Pole really did melt for the first time in 50 million years,
notwithstanding the fact that no one can prove it.
And I think that will be a critical issue for the next
administration to try to come to grips with that. And it will -- as I
said, affect just numerous different issues and policies. And then I
think the other thing is going to be coming to grips, both in a positive
and in a negative way with results of the Human Genome Project -- both
in the great promise that it has for improving health care, et cetera,
and then great social policy challenges that it has on privacy and
genetic discrimination, et cetera.
We've tried to point the way in that, but I think that those will
be kind of critical issues.
Q Not privacy?
MR. PODESTA: I think that privacy obviously is embedded in the
second answer that I gave you about dealing with our most fundamental
issues. Privacy with regard to who we are, kind of our financial
records, our medical records, et cetera, are things that I think can be
worked out and balances can be found.
We've done important work in that area already on financial
records, et cetera; I mentioned medical records that we're trying to
grapple with. But I think that the political system can deal with those
kinds of issues. And I think that the human genome, the issues around
genetic knowledge, genetic discrimination, I think just are
exponentially bigger and probably in the long run maybe tougher to
THE PRESS: Thank you.