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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks on Receiving Proposed Line-Item Veto Legislation and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

1989-08-04

Senator Coats. Mr. President, it's a pleasure for me to present to you on behalf of these Senators with us here -- Senator Humphrey, Senator McCain, Senator Armstrong -- a bill which we think will move us toward spending control from the executive branch and in the Congress, a much-needed tool that you must have and that we want to give you to enact some fiscal discipline in our spending process. Thirty-two senators have signed this piece of legislation, a legislative line-item veto. Senator McCain and I have worked very closely with Senator Humphrey and Senator Armstrong and others to put together what we think is a terrific piece of legislation. Thirty-two of our Members have signed it. We want to present it to you this morning and pledge our very best efforts to get this enacted into law. And we hope in a very short time we are back here standing with you and you have a pen in your hand and you're signing this into law.

The President. Well, thank you Senator Coats. And first, let me thank Senators Armstrong, Coats, Humphrey, McCain. Senator Dole was to be here, but I understand he's very enthusiastic about all of this. And I'm delighted to endorse the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act of 1989. And I'm especially pleased that we have now more than 30 sponsors, cosponsors, for the legislation. It's a long-overdue budget reform piece of legislation.

And on February 9th, I asked Congress to enact reform legislation to give the President greater control over spending. And present law allows for the cancellation of an appropriation only through rescission, but Congress can reject a Presidential rescission simply by inaction. And that's precisely what's happened to the vast majority of rescission proposals submitted by three Presidents since the present law went into effect in 1974.

And so I asked Congress to pass a budget reform proposal that would require an up-or-down vote by Congress on Presidential rescissions. And this legislation really gets to the heart of that goal. It's a tough bill; it forces Congress to act on rescissions. And if Congress does not act, the rescissions take effect. And if they do act, then the bill, of course, would be subject to a veto. So this is one of the tools the President of the United States needs to do what the American people want, and that is to control spending.

And I've said the President needs the power to make the tough calls on spending, to take the heat. I'm perfectly prepared to do that. And that's what, in my view, this forward-looking legislation does. So I endorse this legislation. And I want to thank each and every one of you for playing a significant part in it. And I look forward to working with you to see it enacted. Thank you very much.

Senator Coats. Well, this is the result of some very tough negotiations between all of us, and I think we've fashioned a bill here that will have some real teeth, some real meaning. And we're pleased that you're endorsing it. Thank you.

American Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, what do you make of Rafsanjani's [President of Iran] offer to help resolve the hostage crisis?

The President. We have engaged in an extraordinarily broad exercise of diplomacy here in the last couple of days, and let me say I am pleased about that. I don't know what it means fully, but I think the world is familiar with our policy. But there will be nothing that will be done ever that will create a new incentive for taking somebody else hostage.

But I feel the burden of going to every end possible to try to find -- get the return of these Americans to their loved ones and find out the truth about Colonel Higgins.

Q. What do you think was the motivating factor for the freeze on the execution? And where do you go from here?

The President. I like to think that a broad-spread appeal to nations in every corner of the globe had something to do with it. And many -- --

Q. You don't know?

The President. I don't know for sure. And the response that I have had on my personal calls and that the Secretary [of State] has had on his has been heartwarming. It's come from all sectors. And I've been very, very encouraged by that. And where we go from here, though -- we'll just keep on trying.

Q. Mr. President, what has Iran's role been in this? And do you see an opening in the structure here to allow you to work for the release of the hostages?

The President. Well, I just answered I was certainly pleased that that brutal murder that had been threatened was set aside. I don't know the total role of any individual country in that area in all of this, but when you see a statement that offers hope for the return of our hostages, I want to explore it to the fullest.

Q. Have you made a decision to take military action if another American hostage is killed?

The President. I have made -- I wouldn't -- if I had made such a decision, I expect this would be the last place I'd be talking about it.

Q. Well, surely, you must see this as a golden opportunity now -- you have the momentum, you have a diplomatic flurry going on in Damascus, International Red Cross, apparently. I mean, is there a new impetus?

The President. I'm encouraged, but I don't want to get the hopes of the hostages' loved ones up once again to have those hopes dashed. This is a brutal process, where you see people paraded before cameras and their families get their hopes up. My heart is still with Mrs. Higgins. We can't tell her with any definition what -- of her husband's fate. And I have made appeal after appeal for the return of Colonel Higgins's remains if, indeed, he has been killed.

And so you deal with what you have out there, and what is foremost on my mind are the families and the hostages themselves. And I don't want to raise hopes beyond fulfillment, but there's reason to be somewhat encouraged. But I think of the brutality of the process: a man condemned to die at 11 and then it's moved to 3 in the afternoon. Put yourself in the position of these families. Think of the hurt that just that 4 hours of experience causes somebody. And I would just appeal to the civilized world or any country anywhere in the world to lay aside this holding of people against their will -- hostages -- and do what is right and decent and honorable in terms of the release of those hostages that are still held, and a full accounting in the case of Colonel Higgins, a distinguished officer who was wearing the uniform of the United Nations.

As the Foreign Minister of Bahrain [Muhammad bin Mubarak Al Khalifa] said in this office yesterday or the day before, this is the business of the whole world. Sitting at this desk -- you ask what I feel about it? I feel for the families and for those that are held.

Q. Mr. President, this hostage, Mr. Cicippio, was among those who stayed on in Beirut after the United States had warned him to get out -- had warned all Americans to get out or stay at their own risk. What kind of a claim should such a person have on the diplomatic resources of this country when they act against the wishes of the Government?

The President. We have put people -- in the past, people in that part of the world on notice. But that doesn't fulfill my obligation as President if a person is held against his will, in the case of Mr. Cicippio. That doesn't mean we wash our hands of it. He's an American, and he is entitled to the concern of the President and every one of these Senators and everybody in our administration. And he's got a great, big, wonderful family up there that are eating their hearts out in Norristown, Pennsylvania -- --

Q. Did you call them?

The President. -- -- and we're very much concerned about it. I've not talked to Mr. Cicippio, and the State Department has been in daily contact with them -- daily.

All right, thank you all. Anybody got any questions on the line-item veto legislation? I would like to speak up once again for that.

Note: The President spoke at 10:34 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, USMC, chief of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, was kidnaped on February 17, 1988, and executed by pro-Iranian terrorists on July 31, 1989. Joseph J. Cicippio, acting comptroller at the American University of Beirut, was abducted from the campus on September 12, 1986.

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