[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 6, 1997]
[Pages 1301-1303]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Signing Line Item Vetoes of the Military Construction 
Appropriations Act, 1998, and an Exchange With Reporters
October 6, 1997

    The President. Good afternoon. Today we take another step on the 
long journey to bring fiscal discipline to Washington. Over the past 
4\1/2\ years, we've worked hard to cut the deficit and to ensure that 
our tax dollars are used wisely, carefully and effectively. We have 
reduced the deficit by 85 percent even before the balanced budget 
legislation passed. The balanced budget I signed into law this summer 
will extend our fiscal discipline well into the next century, keeping 
our economy strong.
    But to follow through on the balanced budget, Government must 
continue to live within its means, within the framework established in 
the agreement. The line item veto, which all Presidents of both parties 
had sought for more than a century, gives the President a vital new tool 
to ensure that our tax dollars are well spent, to stand up for the 
national interests over narrow interests.
    Six days ago, I signed into law the Military Construction 
Appropriations Act, a $9.2 billion measure that is vital to our national 
defense. Today I'm using the line item veto to cancel 38 projects 
inserted into that bill by the Congress that were not requested by the 
military, cannot make a contribution to our national defense in the 
coming year, and will not immediately benefit the quality of life and 
well-being of our men and women in uniform. The use of the line item 
veto saves the taxpayers nearly $290 million and makes clear that the 
old rules have, in fact, changed.
    I want to stress that I have retained most of the projects that were 
added by Congress to my own spending request. Congress plays a vital 
role in this process, and its judgment is entitled to respect and 
deference. Many of the projects I have chosen to cancel have merit, but 
should be considered in the future. This is simply the wrong time.
    The projects I have canceled are all over the country, in the 
districts of lawmakers of both parties. These are tough calls involving 
real money and hard choices. I canceled the projects that met three 
neutral and objective criteria:
    First, the Department of Defense concluded that these projects were 
not a priority at this time, after conducting its own rigorous, massive 
planning process. Judgments about our defense needs made by military 
professionals must continue to be the basis of our national defense 
    Second, the projects I am canceling do not make an immediate 
contribution to the housing, education, recreation, child care, health, 
or religious life of our men and women in uniform. Our fighting forces 
and their families make extraordinary sacrifices for us, and I have a 
longstanding commitment to improve their living conditions. I have, 
therefore, left untouched a number of extra projects not requested this 
year because they fulfill that commitment in enhancing the quality of 
life of our men and women in the service.
    Third, I am canceling projects that would not have been built in 
fiscal year 1998 in any event, projects where the Department of Defense 
has not yet even done design work. In short, whether they're meritorious 
or not, they will not be built in the coming year in any event.
    In canceling these projects, I was determined to do nothing that 
would undercut our national security. Every penny of our defense dollars 
should be used to maintain and improve the world's strongest system of 
national defense.
    Also, under the balanced budget, however, we have the added 
obligation, again I say, to ensure that taxpayer funds are expended 
wisely. The use of the line item veto here will ensure that we focus on 
those projects that will best secure our strength in the years to come.

[[Page 1302]]

    Let me say finally that the work of protecting taxpayers in 
reforming the Government must continue. I will scrutinize the other 
appropriation bills, using appropriate criteria in each instance, and 
will exercise the line item veto when warranted. And I will continue to 
fight for bipartisan campaign finance reform.
    Tomorrow the Members of the Senate must decide: Will they move 
forward with a bipartisan campaign finance reform bill, or be derailed 
by a partisan poison pill? The American people will be watching. If they 
make the right choice, this can, indeed, be a banner week for reform in 
our Government.
    Thank you.
    Q. Mr. President----
    The President. John, [John Donvan, ABC News] let me just sign this, 
and then I'll come back to answer questions.

[At this point, the President signed the message transmitting the line 
item vetoes.]

Videotapes of White House Coffees

    Q. My question is about the videotapes that were released and your 
staff telling us that they really did not know about the existence of 
these tapes until this week. How could your staff not know about the 
existence of these tapes?
    The President. Oh, I think that probably they never discussed it 
with anybody in the White House Communications Agency. You'd have to ask 
them. But I can tell you, as soon as I became aware of it, I instructed 
them to be turned over to the appropriate committees as soon as 
    We have fully cooperated with these committees. We've given over 
100,000 pages of documents to the Senate committee alone, I believe. And 
we'll continue to do so. But I think you could just ask the people 
involved what happened, but my guess is that the White House 
Communications Agency just took some footage and that the rest of the 
staff was unaware of it or didn't think of it, and they didn't think 
about it either.
    So now you have it, and people can view it and draw their own 
    Q. Mr. President, are you disturbed by this belated discovery? Are 
you concerned? Have you asked what----
    The President. No, because I don't think there's any--I don't 
believe for a moment that any of the career military people in WHCA in 
any way deliberately didn't say anything about this. I think it was just 
an accident. And so I think that that would be my guess. And all I can 
tell you is, as soon as I found out about it late last week, I said, 
``Get this out and let's go on.'' And you can view the tapes and draw 
your own conclusions.
    Q. The question isn't really whether the WHCA people tried to 
withhold them, but whether people like your Counsel and other officials 
involved who realized these videotapes existed didn't turn them over.
    The President. Oh, I'm sure that Mr. Ruff didn't do that. I talked 
to him--he called me as soon as he knew about it--or one of the 
assistant counsels came down----
    Q. When was that?
    The President. I think it was Thursday afternoon--came down and told 
me, and that's the first I knew about it. And I don't think they had 
known about it for very long. And I'm sure they took a little time to 
figure out exactly what was covered, how much they needed to do, and 
reviewed the materials, and then turned them over, which is what should 
have been done.

Stand-Clark-Squillacote Espionage Case

    Q. Sir, are you concerned about the Soviet espionage arrests that 
happened in Virginia today, that date back to the cold war? And just how 
widespread is this problem, sir?
    The President. Well, let me say I have been briefed about it, and it 
appears to me that the law enforcement authorities have done their job 
in trying to uncover a problem. We'll have to wait and see. We can't 
presume people's guilt. But I think that the only responsible thing is 
for me to refer you to the Justice Department because they made those 

Assassination Attempt on Khaled Meshal

    Q. Mr. President, one other matter. On this apparently failed 
assassination attempt by Israeli agents in Jordan, what was your 
reaction to that? And are these not precisely the kinds of actions that 
serve to undermine confidence in the peace process?
    The President. Well, since the Government of Israel and the 
Government of Jordan have made no comment about this, I think it is 
inappropriate for me to make any comment. I will say this--you know the 
policy of the United States for our own conduct is, and has been

[[Page 1303]]

I believe for more than 20 years under Presidents of both parties, that 
we do not engage in assassinations. But I can make no comment on what 
others did or did not do when it has not been confirmed by either of the 
governments in question.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Kurt Alan Stand, James Michael 
Clark, and Theresa Marie Squillacote, who were accused of spying for 
East Germany in the 1970's and 1980's; and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, 
who was attacked in Amman, Jordan, on September 25. The Military 
Construction Appropriations Act, 1998, H.R. 2016, approved September 30, 
was assigned Public Law No. 105-45.