[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book II)]
[October 28, 1993]
[Pages 1838-1840]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters
October 28, 1993

California Fires and the Economy

    The President. Good morning. Along with all Americans, my heart goes 
out to the people across southern California who have lost their homes, 
their possessions, and who have witnessed private property and the 
natural environment devastated by these terrible fires. More than 400 
homes have already been consumed. And evacuations are now occurring, 
involving thousands of our fellow citizens.
    This morning, I want to announce several specific actions that I am 
taking to respond to this tragedy in California. First, I have 
designated Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura 
Counties as major disaster areas. This makes them available for 
customary Federal assistance to individuals and to State and local 
    Second, I spoke last night with our FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, 
and he is proceeding to California this morning, along with the 
Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, who met with Mr. McLarty this 
    Third, I have spoken with Governor Pete Wilson and will be 
consulting soon with Senators Feinstein and Boxer, to receive their 
recommendations on how we can be more helpful to the State.
    Finally, I have instructed the Chief of Staff, Mr. McLarty, to 
coordinate the full delivery of all appropriate Federal resources and 
assistance to California. We've already dispatched 20 Forest Service air 
tankers there and many additional Federal firefighters to the scene. I 
have asked Secretary Babbitt and Secretary Espy to coordinate with James 
Lee Witt so that we can have a full Federal response to the problems in 
    Many hundreds of people on the ground are engaged in valiant efforts 
to fight these fires now. Neighbors are helping neighbors. We will offer 
what we can to help fight the fires, to meet the needs of the victims, 
to stand with the people who are already doing so much.
    Now, before I answer questions, I'd like to say just another word on 
another subject. For the past 9 months, the primary focus of this 
administration has been on improving the economy in ways that average 
Americans can actually tell were affecting their lives in a positive 
way. We've taken some very serious actions to reduce the deficit, to 
help increase the fairness of the Tax Code, to provide incentives to 
invest in important areas of our national economy, to try to give 
working families with modest incomes and children at home a better 
    Now, we're beginning to see real results, higher growth rates, lower 
deficits, things that over the long run will represent real progress for 
the American people. When our administration took office, the deficit 
for this year was projected to be well in excess of $300 billion. The 
Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget have 
confirmed today that in the end, it turned out to be substantially 
lower. We finished this year with a deficit of $255 billion, over $50 
billion below where it was projected to be. After years of bad policies 
and bad estimates, when lower deficits actually went far higher, it's 
pleasing to me to see that a deficit came in lower than it was projected 
because of efforts directed to lower interest rates which had 
significant direct and indirect benefits to this economy.
    Lower deficits and lower interest rates have sparked the beginning 
of a significant economic recovery. Today, we are seeing a third quarter 
economic growth rate reported of 2.8 percent. I might say that it would 
have been substantially higher but for the floods in the Middle West and 
the drought in the Southeast.
    Although we know our economy is still not

[[Page 1839]]

working well enough for most Americans, these numbers make clear that 
the historic drop in interest rates, following the announcement of our 
economic plan and its ultimate passage, is sparking a sustainable 
recovery that is increasing investments in our future, investments in 
housing, in businesses, and in durable goods.
    There is a lot more to do. We are, after all, as I have said now for 
nearly 2 years, dealing with trends that are 20 years in the making, 
trends of stagnant incomes, trends of exploding health care costs, 
trends of difficult investment decisions too long postponed in America. 
But we are beginning to see real progress. We are moving in the right 
direction, and we have to stay on this course.
    I am very grateful to the people in the Congress who have supported 
the economic plan that has produced these low interest rates, that has 
led to most of the deficit reduction below the projected targets, and I 
think that this is clearly a good sign that we're moving in the right 
    I also want to say that it clearly means that we have much more to 
do. That's why I think it's important that before the Congress goes 
home, we adopt NAFTA. It's important that we take this health care issue 
on seriously and see it through to the end. And there are a lot of other 
issues that we'll be dealing with at the end of this year, and 
especially next year, to keep this economic recovery going. But this is 
good news.
    Q. Mr. President, on the economy, we've seen a number of false 
starts over the past 1\1/2\, 2 years. Are you convinced that recovery is 
assured now, or are you still considering some sort of stimulus package 
to hold in abeyance if necessary?
    The President. What I believe is that we are seeing the beginning of 
a recovery that--you can't say it's assured, because we're in a global 
economy, but it is clearly sustaining itself, based on American policies 
and without much help from overseas because of the very slow growth to 
no growth in Europe and because of the economic problems in Japan.
    Another reason I feel very strongly about NAFTA is that Latin 
America is the second fastest growing part of the world. They're 
actually increasing their incomes. They have a willingness and an 
ability, these countries do, to buy more American products. And in order 
to keep this recovery going and actually have it manifest itself in more 
jobs and higher incomes, we are going to have to have the ability to 
sell our products around the world.
    But yes, I think we're seeing the beginning of a very stable, long-
term recovery. But keep in mind, there are many things we have to do. We 
are dealing in part with trends that have been 20 years in the making. 
And you just don't turn those around overnight.
    Q. Will you travel to California?
    The President. I haven't made a decision on that yet. I had a very 
heart-rending talk this morning with the Governor, and I tried to find 
the two Senators, also. I'll be talking with them, but they may be both, 
I think, making preparations to go on out immediately.
    I did call James Lee Witt, and last night we had a long talk. And I 
told him I thought it was important for him to be on the ground there 
today, to call and to give me a report and see how we were doing.
    For anybody who has ever been in that part of the State, it's very 
troubling. One of our administration members apparently may lose his 
home, has had his family evacuated in Orange County. So it's a huge fire 
out there, and we're going to do whatever it takes to help the people.
    Q. Mr. President, can FEMA handle this after the terrible year that 
the administration has had with the floods? Do you have the resources to 
help California?
    The President. Well, they did a very fine job with the floods. And I 
expect to get a--let me get a report from James Lee Witt when he gets 
out there on the scene, and we'll let you know.
    This is something that we have tried to mobilize and alert the 
Agriculture Department and the Interior Department, not only because we 
have some Federal land out there that is affected but because we do have 
trained firefighters in those Agencies that might be able to help. So 
we're trying to put all that together now, and I should be able--by the 
middle of the afternoon, I'll know more about this.
    Q. Mr. President, you've also said before that--just to follow up--
that California is the weakest part of our economy. Isn't it likely that 
this will further drag down not only California but the rest of the 
country? What extra help can you give them now?
    The President. Let's try to help them get the fire out first, and 
we'll focus on that.
    David [David Lauter, Los Angeles Times].

[[Page 1840]]

    Q. Mr. President, the last time there was a major natural disaster 
in California, the earthquake in the bay area, there was a lot of 
complaint within the State about bureaucratic redtape, bungling, what 
have you. I know you've tried to make improvements in FEMA during the 
flood period, but what sort of assurances can you offer the State that 
this time the job will be done right?
    The President. All I can tell you is, I believe that the people who 
suffered in that historic flood in the Midwest believe that we did cut 
through the redtape, that we were on top of the situation from the 
beginning, and that we worked through it as best as possible. And if we 
do as well in California as we did there, I think the people will be 
    What I want to know, in response to your question and Andrea's 
[Andrea Mitchell, NBC News], is what is different about this? Are there 
going to be different challenges? Will there be different problems? But 
I have every confidence that James Lee Witt will do the same job in 
California he did in the Middle West and, along with Mike Espy and Bruce 
Babbitt, we'll be on top of it. And we'll do whatever it takes to make 
the most of a very difficult situation.


    Q. I have a question on Haiti, Mr. President. Do you accept as fact 
that President Aristide won't be back in power tomorrow? And do you 
favor tightening sanctions?
    The President. We're looking at a number of other options, and I'm 
also looking forward to President Aristide's speech to the United 
Nations, which I think he has probably concluded now. I know he was to 
give it this morning, but I haven't gotten a report on it. The Vice 
President talked with him yesterday, and we have worked very closely on 
this. We spent about 40 minutes on it this morning in the normal 
national security briefing period. We are looking at what our options 
    I think that, just from the morning press reports, if Mr. Francois 
and the others in Haiti believe that all they have to do is to wait out 
Aristide and everything will somehow be all right and that the 
international community will put up with the reestablishment of a 
Duvalier-like regime there, in plain violation of the overwhelming 
majority of the people of Haiti, I think they're just wrong.
    Again, I will say, the people down there that are thwarting 
democracy's return have got to decide whether they want to hold on tight 
to a shrinking future or take a legitimate and proportionate share of an 
expanding future. It is their decision. But I think they are making a 
grave mistake, and we are looking at what our other options are.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White 
House, prior to his departure for Baltimore, MD. In his remarks, he 
referred to Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, chief of the Haitian