[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 5, 1997]
[Pages 1719-1722]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Announcing Appointments to the National Bipartisan Commission on 
the Future of Medicare and an Exchange With Reporters
December 5, 1997

    The President. Today I want to discuss our continued economic 
progress and important steps we must take to continue it. For the last 5 
years we have pursued a comprehensive economic strategy to spur growth, 
to increase income, to create jobs and keep the American dream alive and 
well in a new century. Today we see the latest evidence that our economy

[[Page 1720]]

is growing steady and strong, that the American dream is, in fact, alive 
and well.
    Last month the economy created 400,000 new jobs. Unemployment is now 
4.6 percent, the lowest in a quarter century. There were more new 
manufacturing jobs in the past year than in any year in three decades. 
Inflation remains low and appears to be poised to continue at its low 
rate. And after lagging for years, wages finally are rising again. Our 
economy is the strongest in a generation.
    This continuing prosperity is due to the ingenuity and the 
enterprise and the hard work of the American people who are creating the 
economy of the future. It is also the result of our economic strategy of 
cutting the deficit, investing in education and our future, and 
expanding our exports through trade agreements. This year's balanced 
budget law both honors our values and continues that progress. It 
extends opportunity to our children with the most significant new 
investment in health care in a generation and in education in a 
generation. It offers tax cuts for college and provides for health 
insurance for up to 5 million children. It honors our duty to our 
parents by extending the lifetime of the Medicare Trust Fund until 2010.
    Now we have more to do to strengthen Medicare while preserving its 
commitment to older Americans. Medicare is at the core of our historic 
social compact, our recognition of the duty we owe to one another. It 
has been one of the great achievements of this century, and now we have 
an obligation to strengthen it for the next century, to ensure that it 
is as strong for our children as it has been for our parents, and to 
ensure that the baby boomers have access to quality affordable health 
care when we retire.
    The Medicare reforms I signed into law this year were the product of 
strong cooperation among Democrats and Republicans, the President and 
the Congress. The balanced budget law establishes also a commission to 
continue this bipartisan progress and draft comprehensive reform.
    Today I am pleased to announce my appointees to the commission. They 
include Stuart Altman, a highly respected health care expert who has 
worked for Presidents of both parties; Dr. Laura Tyson, who served our 
Nation well as Chair of the National Economic Council and Chair of the 
Council of Economic Advisers in our administration; Bruce Vladeck, who 
directed the Medicare program for 4 years as Administrator of the Health 
Care Financing Agency; and Anthony Watson, the CEO of a major 
progressive managed care plan in New York that has pioneered support for 
fair treatment of patients while providing quality care.
    These are distinguished, respected, highly skilled experts. They 
understand health care and share our unshakable commitment to the values 
represented by Medicare. I expect them to work as strong partners with 
the other commissioners, and I look forward to their proposals to keep 
Medicare at the core of the American dream in the new century.
    Thank you.
    Q. Will you recess-appoint Bill Lann Lee next week?
    Q. [Inaudible ]--economy is so great----
    The President. One at a time.

Economy and Tax Reform Proposals

    Q. Are you really thinking of a tax cut?
    The President. No, I don't believe that's a fair interpretation of 
what I said yesterday in my comments. What I said was--I was asked about 
proposals for tax reform, and what I said was that I thought any tax 
reform that was adopted had to be fair, good for the economy, not burden 
the deficit, and make the system simpler. That was the context in which 
that discussion occurred.
    Then there was a separate discussion about the discussion that is 
going around town here about what ought to be done with the surplus. 
Some people say we should have a tax cut with the surplus; some people 
say we should spend more money with the surplus; some people say we 
should apply it to the debt. What I tried to point out yesterday is 
there is not a surplus. The people who say there is a surplus are 
talking about the difference in the projected line of deficit to 2002 
when we adopted the balanced budget law and I signed it, and the 
projected line now.
    Now, no doubt this news today is good news. It augers for stronger 
growth in this quarter, and it may well mean that we will have a better 
prediction in terms of the size of the deficit and eliminating it 
altogether now than we did at the time the balanced budget law was 
passed, at the time of the midsession review last August. The only point 
I tried to make is all those are still estimates. And it's good to have 
a good estimate, but we don't want to spend money we don't yet have.

[[Page 1721]]

    The thing that has driven this economic recovery is getting interest 
rates down, getting investment up, creating a framework in which the 
American economy could grow, and bringing down the deficit from $300 
billion a year to $23 billion a year is a big part of that. So before we 
make any unduly rash decisions about the future, let's make sure that 
we're taking care of the economy because that's--the best thing you can 
do for Americans' incomes is to give them a strong economy.

Assistant Attorney General Nominee

    Q. Will you recess-appoint Bill Lann Lee next week?
    Q. Are you looking at a flat tax, Mr. President?
    Q. Mr. President, are you concerned----
    The President. I can't hear all of you.
    Q. Will you recess-appoint Bill Lann Lee next week?
    Q. Mr. President, are you concerned that the Southeast Asia 
financial crisis will affect the U.S. economy?
    The President. I'll answer this, but let me answer this one first. 
What I would like to say today, and all I am going to say today, is Bill 
Lann Lee's personal story, his work experience, his integrity, and his 
fitness for this job are absolutely beyond question. He should not be 
denied the job because he disagrees with the Republicans in the Senate 
on whether affirmative action is or is not good policy. The only thing 
he's required to do is to enforce the law as the Supreme Court hands it 
down or as the Congress passes it, and to recuse in the case of any kind 
of personal conflict, which he said he would do in the case of the 
California law, which is now moot.
    So I believe--I will say again--he is entitled to a vote. The 
Senators ought to vote on him. No one has put forward a credible reason 
for why this man should not be appointed. Surely the fact that he agrees 
with the President who wishes to appoint him on the question of what 
kind of affirmative action programs we should or shouldn't have, surely 
that should not disqualify him for this position. That is the point I 
have made. I still think that he ought to be able to serve.
    Yes, now go ahead.

Asian Economies

    Q. Mr. President, are you concerned that the Southeast Asia 
financial blowout, which seems to be ongoing still, is going to eat into 
these economic growth figures that you revealed today?
    The President. Well, first of all, I think we all have to 
acknowledge that our economies are interrelated. About a third of our 
growth over the last 5 years has been due to our ability to sell more 
American products around the world--about a third. And anything which 
undermines our ability to continue to sell more American products around 
the world, any action taken abroad or at home, is not good for our 
future growth prospects.
    Now, that's one of the reasons that I have moved so aggressively to 
work with our allies in Asia and in Europe and with the International 
Monetary Fund and the World Bank to try to stabilize the situation.
    On the other hand, let me remind you that there is enormous 
productive power in these Asian economies. They have some financial 
difficulties now, which have to be addressed in a disciplined way. If 
you see the rapid recovery that Mexico had within the space of 2 years, 
you see that these strong Asian economies can do exactly the same thing 
in perhaps less time if they face their challenges directly. So I think 
that the appropriate response is to do what was done in Indonesia, to do 
what was done in South Korea.
    The Japanese statements of the last few days are heartening about 
what they intend to do with their own financial institutions and 
protecting the depositors. All this is basically good news. So they've 
hit a rough patch in their financial institutions and markets, but 
underlying productivity and potential in Asia is enormous. Yes, I'm 
concerned about its impact on Americans, and that's one of the reasons 
I've been so actively involved in trying to deal with it, but I don't 
think we should become pessimistic. I think we should just be determined 
to work through these things as quickly as possible.
    Q. Mr. President----
    Q. Mr. President----
    The President. One at a time, one at a time. Go ahead.

[[Page 1722]]

Arlington Interment of Ambassador M. Larry Lawrence

    Q. Mr. President, should Larry Lawrence have been buried in 
Arlington National Cemetery?
    The President. Well, that depends on what the facts are. The 
questions which have been raised are serious, and I have asked the State 
Department to conduct an inquiry to find out whether, in fact, the basis 
of his eligibility is true or not. That's a fact question. And let's 
wait until we see what the facts are, and then we can all draw our 
conclusions from that. But the questions themselves are serious.
    I think the other question you might ask is, were the people 
involved in the decision in any way at fault? I don't think they were. 
They acted on the facts as they knew them. The original inquiry into the 
background check was done--for the Ambassador--was done by the State 
Department. I've asked them, therefore, to follow up, try to find out 
the facts. When we get the facts, then I think we can make our judgments 
on it.


    Q. Have you made an indefinite commitment to keep American troops in 
    The President. Have I made an indefinite commitment? No. But I have 
made a definite commitment to continue to be involved there in ways that 
I think are appropriate. Keep in mind, we have a very modest troop 
presence there now, and we are participating as a minority partner, if 
you will, in the civilian police. With the withdrawal of the United 
Nations forces, the primary work of maintaining security has shifted to 
the international police force working with the Haitian police. Our 
military presence there--it largely involves a lot of public works. We 
are doing some public works projects there which we've been asked to 
continue and to finish, try to accelerate. And of course, I think it 
does contribute to the stability of the area. But our presence there 
cannot be indefinite, and it will not be indefinite. But I think that we 
should have these withdrawals in a staged fashion, and we should know 
what the next stage is before we take any precipitous action. The 
American people should know it's not a military operation.
    Go ahead.

Situation in Iraq

    Q. Mr. President, Saddam Hussein seems not to be satisfied with the 
way--this arrangement of the U.N. Security Council. What do you feel and 
what do you think can be done about it?
    The President. Well, I certainly think he's exposed his motives and 
his real concerns to the entire world today. You know, it wasn't very 
long ago--how many days ago was it that he had this symbolic funeral for 
children, blaming the world community in general and the United States 
in particular for the death of Iraqi children. Let me remind you, when 
we got the United Nations resolution passed, we and the others who 
supported it--986--to allow him to sell oil to get food and medicine for 
his people, even while he was continuing to resist getting rid of his 
entire chemical and biological weapons arsenal, he delayed the full 
implementation of that for a year and a half. He is in no position to 
point the finger at anyone else in the world for the suffering of his 
own people. And once again today he has proved that he is responsible 
for the suffering of his own people.
    The rest of us are more than happy to let him sell oil in amounts 
necessary to generate the cash to alleviate the human suffering of the 
people of Iraq. That's what 986 was all about. This is not about 986. 
This is about some other way that he can manipulate the feelings of 
people beyond the borders of Iraq, even if he has to let innocent 
children die to do it, so he can continue to pursue a weapons of mass 
destruction program. And it's wrong, and the world community should not 
let him get away with it.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.