Public Papers - 1991 - December
The President's News Conference
Secretary-Designate of Commerce
The President. Good afternoon, the day after Christmas. Let me just say I am very pleased to announce my intention to nominate Barbara Hackman Franklin as the next Secretary of Commerce. I've known Barbara for many years, and I am confident that her outstanding record of achievement in both the public and private sector will serve her well as she tackles this tough and important assignment.
Barbara has dealt with a broad range of domestic and international issues. She's a recognized leader in her field. She served on the board of directors of seven major industrial companies, manufacturing and service, providing advice and guidance on how to successfully innovate, manage efficiently, and stimulate economic growth. In fact, in 1990, the American Management Association named her one of our Nation's 50 most influential corporate directors.
Currently in her fourth term as a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations, she understands firsthand the challenge America faces in the international trade arena. She knows that, currently, exports are our strong suit and that we must continue to press hard to open more markets to quality American goods and services.
And that's why she's been a determined advocate of free and fair trade, keenly aware that when the playing field is level, American workers can compete with anyone anywhere.
Her first priority is the same as mine: jobs and economic growth. And she's shown a deep commitment to public service, from serving on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to working as an alternate public delegate to the United Nations.
In addition to her corporate and international trade experience, Barbara is an entrepreneur, founder and owner of her own management consulting firm. As one of the first women to earn an MBA from Harvard University, she's also been a leader and role model for many women in business. As we address the tough economic issues before us, I look forward to Barbara Franklin's sound, experienced counsel. And she will undoubtedly be a valued member of our economic team.
Let me just add that I am grateful for Bob Mosbacher's service at the Department of Commerce. I mentioned it here the other day, but as I name Barbara Franklin to this new position, I again want to express to Bob Mosbacher my sincere appreciation for a job so well done. And I have every confidence that Barbara will continue that fine tradition of exemplary public service.
And now, Madam Secretary-Designate, if you would like to say a word or two, and then we'll be -- either both of us be glad to take some questions.
Ms. Franklin. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am deeply honored, almost beyond putting that into words, but I am absolutely thrilled to be a new part of your team. And I'm particularly honored that you have chosen me to follow my friend, Secretary Bob Mosbacher, who really has done a wonderful job. And I admire very much what you and he have done to forge a partnership between Government and business and to promote exports. And I look forward to working with everyone on your team in the administration to continuing that momentum.
As Secretary of Commerce, when confirmed by the Senate, of course, I look forward to and will be very proud to be an advocate for American business, small business, big business, medium-sized business, start-up business, manufacturing service, whatever kind of business we have in this country, because it is the economic backbone of America and really the envy of the world.
I believe today that American business is more competitive, more innovative, and more responsible than a lot of people realize. And we have a great story, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to begin to tell it.
I appreciate your confidence in me, Mr. President. Thank you.
The President. Well, both of us, either of us, will take questions. Tom [Tom Raum, Associated Press], I believe, has the first one.
Russian Nuclear Weapons
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Despite the assurances that you've gotten from Boris Yeltsin that he'll do what he can to not ever use the nuclear button, how satisfied are you that he can control the vast arsenal that's now spread out over four independent Republics, particularly given the continued economic instability there?
The President. Well, we have had proper assurances from all the Republics, the ones that I have said last night we were going to recognize, those that have nuclear weapons. And our experts that have been in touch at the expert level see no reason to be concerned about this. I had proper assurances, obviously, from Boris Yeltsin on this on several occasions.
Similarly, in my conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, he raised the subject and expressed his satisfaction at the way this process or this -- well, this process is going. And so I have no reason to be anything but satisfied at this point.
Future Arms Negotiations
Q. Mr. President, a followup, if I may. In the past it's been hard enough to negotiate arms control agreements with the one central power. What does this say, now that there will be as many as 12 different voices speaking, what does this say for enacting new arms control agreements and enforcing the old ones?
The President. I think it's going to be very easy, much easier. And the reason I say that -- let me say much easier -- because we don't have the concept on their part of viewing the United States as an enemy, as happened over all the years of the cold war.
From the representations that have been made by the various presidents of the Republics, I think it will be far easier now to hammer out whatever additional arms control agreements are in the world's interest, and certainly in the interest of the United States, than it was before. So, I think this whole change towards commonwealth will facilitate further progress in arms reductions.
Q. Mr. President, speaking of trust, why do you trust your economic advisers when they've been so wrong? And I have a -- --
The President. That's a very good question, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. [Laughter] I was kind of hoping you would bring that up. [Laughter]
Q. I have another part, another related question.
The President. Well look, you go back and look at not just my economic advisers, but the blue chip prognosticators, and I think many, including this noneconomist you're talking to, have been wrong. And so, I'm not recriminatory about it, but I think that everybody would recognize, given the way the economy failed to recover, as was widely predicted 3 months ago, that this science of economics is inexact at best. But I have no recrimination on it, but I simply think that it is very hard to -- what I've learned from this is that economists can be wrong. It's very hard to predict accurately events on a complicated thing like this economy.
Salaries of Corporate Executives
Q. Mr. President, you're taking with you a delegation, many of whom pulled down multimillion-dollar salaries while their companies have fired hundreds, perhaps thousands of workers. What is your feeling about that? Do you think they should make that kind of money when they're firing everybody?
The President. I don't think the Federal Government has a role in all of this, but I do think that it's good that these business people are going along, regardless of what their salaries are. They represent large companies in various fields, including the automotive business, and there are a lot of workers who would like to see what I'd like to see: more access to Japanese markets. So, on the whole, I'm very, very pleased that that's taking place.
Q. You have no feeling about these salaries that go through the roof?
The President. I think when times are tough there's more focus on that, and everybody ought to be dealing from their conscience. And these boards of directors should be looking very carefully at these matters. But I stop short of saying this is where the Government ought to get in. I've seen pieces of legislation that somehow hook things into the Government mandating what compensation should be, and I'm strongly opposed to that.
Commonwealth of Independent States
Q. Mr. President, last night in your speech you warned that there was still a potential for instability and chaos in the Commonwealth of these Republics. Just what is it precisely that you're concerned about? And, given the economic constraints here in the United States, what specific steps are you ready to take today to see that doesn't happen?
The President. Well, I'm concerned about economic deprivation; that's one thing. Secondly, I'm concerned that when you put into effect bold, new free market economic systems that there will be dislocations. The managed economies have failed, but as you have a transition to market economies, there could be consumer woes out there. And I think Boris Yeltsin himself has mentioned his concerns about that in the Russian Republic. You already hear concerns being expressed in the other Republics. And so, it isn't easy when you make the shift from a highly centralized economy, even though it's in the failing state, to something as bold and innovative as a market economy. And it's going to take a while to attract the investment they want.
So, what I think we ought to be doing is helping where we can with food, helping where we can with medicine, and helping where we can with private investment. And of course, that's one of the categories that will -- that's one of the headings that will be addressed by our new Secretary of Commerce.
We're just beginning now in all of this. And it's very important we succeed. I'm not predicting disaster; I am just saying we've got to be alert to the pressures that are going to be brought to bear on the Republics.
I saw a report today of oil shortages in the Baltic States, for example. And there's no easy answer to all of this. But I just hope that they will continue to solve these problems, for the most part, in a very, very peaceful way. We've seen some areas where it hasn't been so peaceful.
Q. But can the United States do anything more specific to head off this kind of instability and turmoil?
The President. I think, in something this complex, I don't think there's one easy formulation, if that's what you mean. We are going to stay involved in those areas that I mentioned. I think that will guard against the real worst-case scenario.
I've been criticized for not getting to the back of the room. So, we'll do these two, and then we'll go way back there somewhere although I do not hear from my fellow Texan back there. [Laughter]
Initiatives on the Economy
Q. In your Christmas address you did promise that you would use the same determination on the economic problems at home that you used on ending the cold war. What will you do between now and your State of the Union Address?
The President. I'm going on a foreign trip to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Korea. And one of the things that sustained us in difficult economic times is our exports, and I want to be sure during this period of time that we do everything we can to set the ground work for expanded exports. So, that's one thing I'll be doing.
The other things we'll be doing is working out the final phases of a highly complex Federal budget. And the third thing will be putting the final touches on a State of the Union that will include some suggestions that I've already made and some new suggestions as to what to do in a stimulatory sense for this economy.
Q. And you've ruled out any unilateral administration action between now and the State of the Union?
The President. Well, there may be other steps we can take. I've mentioned three things we will be doing, but in terms of other steps there may be. We're going to be talking today, as a matter of fact, on some things here.
Q. Mr. President, one of the issues that your economic advisers have stuck by closely is maintaining the budget agreement. Are you at this point ready to ditch that agreement if it suggests that you might be able to get the economy underway?
The President. Well, by the budget agreement, what I think of when I think of it is keeping caps on discretionary spending. And one of the things that has kept the long-term interest rates from going out through the roof is the fact that discretionary spending is capped. And I have no desire to change that at all. I am not going to do that. And I think the markets will receive what I've just told you right now with great feeling of satisfaction.
Q. But if it's not discretionary, you are willing to entertain some changes?
The President. The nondiscretionary spending is going at leaps and bounds. And I don't know of many Americans who say, ``Spend more money please from Washington.'' But, you know, when you take a look at some of the entitlement programs, therein lies the real expansion of Government spending. What can be done about them? We're talking about that right now.
Q. Possibly some cuts, sir?
The President. We're just talking about a wide array of things.
Q. Mr. President, now that the Soviet Union is dead and that communism seems to be dead or is dead already, what do you foresee in Cuba? What is your forecast or your outlook?
The President. I've got a pretty pessimistic prospect there for Fidel Castro down there in Cuba, very pessimistic for him, because it is so hard to be the only one that still thinks communism is a good idea. And that's what he thinks. And he's hurting his own people. And the Soviets -- the Republics will be, if not cutting him off entirely, cutting him back considerably.
So, what he ought to do is brighten the future for Cuba and brighten the future for the Cuban people by permitting them to have the same kinds of freedoms that the Republics now enjoy, the Republics in the former Soviet Union. And that's what Fidel Castro ought to do. So, Castro, in its existing model, no hope for him. It's a dead end. He's swimming against an inexorable tide.
Q. For the future of Latin America, now that there are so many countries that need aid -- --
The President. Very optimistic about the future of Latin America. I want to hammer out a fair trade agreement with Mexico that will create more jobs in the United States and will be of enormous benefit to Mexico. Then I want to go beyond that for more opening of trade with Central and South America. And I want to help those countries every way we can strengthen their fledgling democracies and strengthen those democracies that have been in effect for a long time.
So, Latin America, South America presents at year's end a very exciting prospect. And the United States is fully engaged. We will continue to be engaged. Haiti remains a problem, but if you ask me if I'm pessimistic or optimistic about the lives of the people south of our border being better this coming year, I would say because of the political change down there they have every opportunity for much better lives.
Lack of Confidence in the Economy
Q. Mr. President, I wanted to ask you about public anxieties about the economy. On paper, if you compare the economy now with the '82 recession, for instance, it doesn't look that bad. Unemployment isn't as high; interest rates are relatively low. Yet, the public anxiety seems to be very high, and Alan Greenspan last week said there is a deep-seated concern out there that he hasn't seen in his lifetime.
Now, you've said that if you're unemployed the unemployment rate for you is 100 percent. But beyond that, there must be something out there that is causing this anxiety. How would you explain it?
The President. I think it's somewhat the nature of this sluggish economy. I think there's a lot more white-collar unemployment and concern. It's hard for me, beyond that, to explain it because you are correct in what you say about these statistics, and yet you're also correct in what you say about confidence being far lower than it was during the depths of the '81 - '82 recession, when, as you point out, conditions in some areas were a heck of a lot worse.
So, I don't really -- I haven't really been able to sort out exactly why there has been this degree of pessimism. But I will say this: I believe that's going to change. And I think what the Fed did last week was a good step. I think it will work its way through to the job creation part of this, which is most fundamental. But it's hard for me to explain exactly -- I mean, to have it explained the way that I can understand it exactly why there is the degree of pessimism. But there certainly has been, and I want to do my level-best to turn that around.
Q. Mr. President, as you put your economic package together for next year, the Fed has lowered the interest rates, and some economists say that that has pretty much erased the need for a tax cut for the middle class that the Democrats are clamoring for. What's your current thinking on whether that package will indeed contain a tax cut for the middle class?
The President. I will not say to you what is going to be in our proposals. I have read some speculation of that nature, but what I want to do is find the answers that will really help the economy without doing long-run damage to the economy. And beyond that, I simply would respectfully ask that I just address myself to that when I go into it with the State of the Union.
Q. Republicans joined the Democrats in ridiculing the idea of a tax rebate -- that it really wouldn't do that much good. Are you playing around with some idea in that way?
The President. Well, we've got some ideas that I think will be stimulative, and I think that is what is necessary. We've had some that I felt would be stimulative, and we haven't been particularly successful in getting them through Congress, but we are going to try some more. I think we owe that to the American people, and I think Congress owes it to the American people.
Visit to Asian and Pacific Nations
Q. Mr. President, why are you taking corporate CEO's on your trip to Asia and not working people, representatives of working people, union leaders?
The President. I think the major problem we're trying to do is to -- the problems we're trying to solve is to have the counterparts, the people that run the business enterprises in the various countries we are going to, understand how difficult things are for the American worker, for the job-holder in this country, union or nonunion, and how important it is to gain access, further access to these foreign markets. So, I think it is the people that are actually running these various businesses who are in the best position to discuss it in that level.
I hope they understand from studying this country as much as they do that the workers you're talking about are hurting and are concerned. And so, I hope that this approach will benefit our common objectives. That is why I want them to be with us.
I might say, there are other things we are going to be talking about on this trip. We're going to be talking about the U.S. role in the Pacific. Some have felt that the United States was pulling back from its responsibilities in the Pacific, given what has happened, for example, in the Philippines. I will reassure the leaders of the four countries that I am visiting that that isn't the case, that we remain a Pacific power.
We've got some other things we'll be talking about with these various countries, the need to work in global partnership with them in terms of helping South and Central America, or seeing what we can do to help alleviate the suffering that might take place in these Republics. So, there's a wide array of subjects, but right up in the forefront will clearly be the economic questions.
Q. Does it trouble you, sir, though, that a lot of these executives have protectionist views that are quite at odds with your own?
The President. They know my views, and I am not going to change my views to become a protectionist. But I think we have a common view that we ought to have more access to these foreign markets, and I think therein there is a total common view. But I am not going to turn protectionist. I just believe that we need to expand markets, not contract them. This country went through a disastrous experience with protectionism years ago, and we're not going to do it again.
Karen [Karen Hostler, Baltimore Sun], the last one I am told.
Q. On the trip, you've raised expectations pretty high with all this talk of jobs, jobs, jobs, and going to Japan. What do you realistically expect to accomplish? Are you hopeful of getting some concessions from the Japanese on trade barriers or changing some of the unfair trade practices?
The President. Well, one thing we will get is that they will have a much clearer feel for the state of the U.S. economy and what the President and some business leaders think need to be done to improve the state of the U.S. economy to help create jobs in this country. We've been talking to world leaders for many years about this, but I think they'll understand when this trip is over that, to the degree there are barriers that make this trade less than fair, that they'd better do something about it.
So, I would leave it general. There are some things that I could cite for you that we might get, but I'm not going to do that, set up goals for this trip. I notice some of the political leaders up on the opposition in this country have already done that for me, so we'll just leave it there. But that doesn't bother me. We're going to stay on this free trade approach, but we're also going to try to do our best to be sure the trade is fair and fairer and continuing to get fairer. That is what's essential here at this turn of events. We must not go back into this isolationistic sphere that inevitably will shrink markets and throw more people out of work.
So, we're going to be taking a broad message on this subject of jobs and a strong message in terms of the need for the United States to stay involved in the Pacific area. It's an important trip in that regard.
Listen, thank you all very much, and have a great new year. And I hope you had half as good a Christmas as the Bush family did; then you'd be very, very happy.
Q. What did you get for Christmas?
The President. What did I get for Christmas? I can't tell you.
Meeting With Russian President Yeltsin
Q. Mr. President, would you like to meet with Boris Yeltsin soon?
The President. We talked about that, as a matter of fact, and he's -- I think it's important. I think he thinks it's important. No date was set. But clearly, as the leader of the largest Republic, one who I said last night we wanted to help get the -- who we'd like to see sit in that Security Council permanent member seat, it is important we stay in a very, very close touch.
And as you know, President Yeltsin and I have been in close touch and will continue to be. But I would say that a meeting before too long is important, and I think he agrees with that.
Q. Sir, would you consider inviting here to Washington for -- --
The President. Sure, sure -- well, for what?
Q. In January?
The President. I don't think that would fit, but I think it's important that he come here or that I meet him somewhere, because we want to handle this relationship as best we can to see that it's peaceful, to see that all the things they've represented to us in terms of Helsinki principles and nuclear weapons and all of those things are handled well. I'm confident they will, but it doesn't hurt to have that personal contact.
Thank you all very much.
Note: The President's 114th news conference began at 2:07 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.