James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:44 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. Let me begin by just summarizing some of the points the President made today in his comments after the Cabinet meeting. Much of the Cabinet meeting was, in fact, devoted to talking about future priorities for this administration, the President saying that he’s certainly eager to continue the work between now and the end of this administration.
One of the key items is to make sure that the budget is sound and the economy is strong, and there are big differences between the two parties. Now, we have laid out what our spending priorities are, not only for this year, but into the future, and let me just give you a glimpse of what we’re talking about, in terms of bringing the budget into balance.
There in the dark bars you see where we stand to date; the lighter bars are the projections for the future. You will note that in the year 2008, the projection goes from $205 billion this year up to $258 billion for next year. A lot of that reflects add-ons in the budget supplemental last year for defense, where Democrats insisted on adding a considerable amount of money. Some of that is also the reflection of some increases in mandatory spending.
But it gives you a sense what happens, sometimes, when people say, well, we’re just going to add a little bit to the budget. Quite often those have explosive long-term effects, in terms of what’s going to happen to the long-term budget picture. Before we get into great depth about that, let me give you a compare and contrast about the President’s budget versus the budget that has been proposed by Democrats in Congress. There you see in the blue bars the administration proposals, in terms of non-defense discretionary spending; the red bars, the congressional proposals.
Now keep in mind, these are the congressional Democratic proposals, and this is without adding in a number of the spending items that the President says he will veto this year, such as S-CHIP and other items in the budget. If you add those in, you have a budget implication of as much as $300 billion in extra spending by Democrats over the next five years, which would raise the per-second increase in spending from $1,300 to close to $2,000, using the method that the President used after the meeting earlier today.
And you’ve got to ask yourself, Democrats say we’re going to balance the budget — how are they going to do that? Answer? Gouging the taxpayer, significant tax increases — in many cases, simply by letting tax cuts that are now in effect expire. You will see that the President’s proposals for tax increases remain at zero, but if you take a look at a five-year tax increase proposed by Democrats, it’s $392 billion, and over a 10-year span, that rises to $1.8 trillion.
Now the business of leadership, and also the business of handling budgets is one where you have to make decisions and you have to step up and honor your responsibilities. As the President pointed out, Democrats won both Houses of Congress fair and square in last year’s elections. One of the things they promised was that they were going to step up and they were going to take immediate action to get bills done on time and to do it in such a way as to honor the people’s business.
Well, here’s what we have in terms of a track record for this year. As you can see, it look as though the House of Representatives will have four votes on all the appropriations bills; the Senate will have had a vote on one bill; and precisely zero of them will have gone to conference. When Congress returns from its vacation, it will have 19 legislative days before the end of the budget year. As the President said, if you want do everything fair and square, you want to do it in a way where the American people can measure what your priorities are and what your policies are, you do that by putting out each and every one of your appropriations bills in order so people can take a look at it, and they can take a good, sound and thoughtful look at what’s going on.
Having said that, one other note — ethics legislation pending right now. There are a couple of interesting items here, too. At the beginning of the year, members of the House and Senate all agreed that it would be very important to make all earmarks transparent. In other words, identify an earmark, say who requested it, say what the purpose is and who would benefit from it. Now all of that is basically gone. As a matter of fact, the language has been considerably weakened. And furthermore, the reporting requirements have been reduced basically to no requirements at all. For instance, when it comes to sponsors of amendments who are going to put in earmarks, they will be required under the new legislation to print the earmark “as soon as practicable.” You tell me what that means.
Similarly, bills — committees reporting bills containing earmarks must identify earmarks on a congressional website “as soon as practicable.” Oops, webmaster has a bad cold — we’ll be back in two years. Or earmark requests — who requested them and why. They must be posted “as soon as practicable.” This is one of these things where — and furthermore, the people making the decisions in the United States Senate will be the parliamentarian and the Senate majority leader.
All of this is a way of saying that there is important business to be done before Congress. One of the most important and solemn responsibilities of Congress is to deal with the people’s money. Obviously we are encouraging members of Congress to act swiftly.
And finally, on a pending matter, Jim Nussle as the budget director. His nomination has been up for six-and-a-half weeks. Members of the House and Senate know Jim Nussle. They know he’s competent, they know he is capable of working in a professional and bipartisan manner. You’ve had testimony with House Budget Committee chairmen and subcommittee chairs who have worked with him and served as co-chairs on a variety of committees. He needs to be confirmed before Congress leaves town.
Rob Portman is going to head back to Cincinnati after — at the close of business tomorrow. If Congress is talking seriously about budget matters, and they say they want to, they’ve got to have somebody to talk to. So we do believe it is important and incumbent upon Congress to go ahead and nominate a good man that everybody knows is competent and capable, and that is Jim Nussle.
Q: Is the bridge collapse in Minneapolis prompting a reevaluation of other bridges across the country, and a look at whether deficiencies that have already been noted are being addressed?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are two things. First, this is a unique catastrophe. But on the other hand, there is also a vigorous program of doing inspections already around the country. The Department of Transportation sets standards for doing inspections and states carry out those inspections, and they do so on a regular basis.
I think I would have to leave it to the various states to answer your question, Terry, because they’re the ones taking a look at the structures. But I think it is safe to say — and this is an important point to make, because there will be lots of “who’s responsible,” “who could have done what.” The fact is if anybody has knowledge that something like this can happen they’re going to act on it. Public servants — this is a horrible time for the families of those who lost loved ones yesterday, and it’s also a very trying time for anybody in public service. And so, as a consequence, the most important thing to do with this particular situation is, first, provide comfort for those who are grieving today and, second, move as rapidly as possible to restore that vital transportation artery. And Mary Peters today made it absolutely clear that this administration is going to work arm in arm with the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis to get that restored.
The forensic work is going to take, as we heard today from NTSB, maybe a year to figure out the precise cause. Meanwhile, again, I’m sure that state and local officials all around the country will try to assess whether they need to revisit their own inspection procedures.
Q: You said this morning that on a 120-point scale that it was evaluated at 50. So was the — was corrective action being taken?
MR. SNOW: Well, I will again get back — the first thing I will do is refer you to what was discussed earlier today. And here is Secretary Peters, she says, “What a rating of 50 means is that the bridge should be considered for replacement at some point in the future. Had the bridge been unsafe, Governor Pawlenty would have shut the bridge down immediately. None of the ratings meant there was danger.” Scheduled rehabilitation was in the future for Minnesota DOT. As a matter of fact, the Governor then continued and said, because of the assessment by national officials of structural needs — that’s not the same as it needs to be closed down or torn down or replaced immediately. But there were inspections in 2005 and 2006 that incorporated the ranking, and they were working on figuring out the proper methods and maintenance.
If you want technical answers to these, again I would refer you to DOT or NTSB to try to give you a precise marker on that. But that’s how the Secretary of Transportation answered it today.
Q: I think people, though, are going to want to know is this a unique tragedy? And when you say it’s a unique tragedy, what do you mean by that?
MR. SNOW: Well, there have been very few situations where you’ve had a catastrophic bridge collapse like this. Don’t hold me to it, but the last one I can remember is in Gallipolis, Ohio some years ago. When I was kid, I remember that that bridge collapsed. There may have been some in the interim, but there —
Q: One in Florida —
MR. SNOW: Yes, that’s right. So you have these incidents that happen from time to time. You know, Jim, I honestly — these are things where, again, it’s a unique — sort of uniquely catastrophic situation. I don’t have, and I don’t think anybody can tell you exactly — an evaluation of each and every bridge in the country. On the other hand, there is a system where there is constant evaluation, and people do make recommendations about how to maintain them.
Q: I’m sure every citizen driving over a bridge today is thinking, whatever wasn’t picked up about the Minnesota bridge, I wonder if any of that is applicable to the bridge I’m driving over.
MR. SNOW: What you do have is a system where the states, in fact, do the inspections and do the maintenance. And so if you’re trying to ask the questions about bridges, in many ways that’s a question that you’re asking of the states. Again, I will tell you — it’s a matter of common sense. An elected official, one of the things that everybody spends a lot of time thinking about is transportation and road arteries, and the safety of structures is always a real priority. But, again, I cannot answer on the part of 50 governors and transportation departments in each of those states.
Q: Tony, I know it is a state or a sometimes municipal responsibility to deal with those bridges, but should the federal government take a role in really urging them to reassess their practices right now, and perhaps accelerate some type of inspections?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don’t — that’s making assumptions that people are not, in fact, treating this as a priority. I’m not sure that’s the case. Furthermore, an incident like this, I’m sure, has a galvanizing effect on people all over the country; they’re going to take a close look at their needs.
But keep in mind, there is a vigorous program of inspection; there always is. It is something that occupies a great deal of time in every transportation department — every state I’ve worked in, and I’ve covered a lot of transportation departments in a lot of states; it’s always been a priority. And it’s also been something that a lot of local reporters cover for a living. So the structural integrity of bridges and roads, and so on, is obviously a constant and ongoing concern for all the states.
Q: Tony, the President said the federal government has to respond robustly, and so far it has quickly sent — the administration has quickly sent a number of top officials to the scene. Is the administration putting into action lessons that have been learned from the much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know how quite to answer that. It’s a different kind of a situation. What has happened is that people have moved very swiftly to get to the scene, folks who are involved. This is not one where you have a dam collapse and you have tens of thousands of people placed into harm’s way, and that sort of thing. But on the other hand, this is something where the government has responded as rapidly as possible, and has made clear its determination to help.
Again, I’ll just give you the line, because it’s one of the things that Secretary Peters really made clear — and I think it’s important — is, at this point, it is our view that the thing we need to do is to work, as she said, arm in arm with local officials. This is a situation where you’ve got — there are two main bridges that connect — that go over the Mississippi in that area of Minneapolis. Now one of them is gone, and it is going to have dramatic economic implications and dramatic implications on the lives of many people there. And we need to work as quickly as possible with the state to provide remediation.
MR. SNOW: Yes, April.
Q: A report came out not long ago talking about the nation’s bridges, how many of them were substandard and how old they were. At that time, you did not hear about federal oversight, and yes, people have said that this country’s infrastructure is poor — going back to the issue of the levees. That was a situation where the infrastructure of the levees were in somewhat of a compromised position. And now you have the nation’s — many of the nation’s bridges over 100 years old — this bridge 40 — and the infrastructures are not right. What about federal oversight, as it comes to this?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you have — the federal government sets the standards, and the local officials, those who should be most answerable — what you’re assuming is that local officials are not competent to build bridges or to inspect them. I guarantee you, that is not the view of local officials, and —
Q: Tony, I’m not saying that they’re not competent. I’m talking about —
MR. SNOW: So what you’re asking for is an extra layer of oversight?
Q: Don’t you think that needs to be done in the wake of —
MR. SNOW: I think what needs to be done —
Q: — reports that come out and this bridge collapse?
MR. SNOW: Again, you’ve got a system right now where there are regular inspections, and the states do it, and they do it according to — if you want federal oversight, that comes in the form of putting together standards that ought to be used and a way of measuring it.
Anybody who understands how local politics work and state politics work understands that these are issues — the “pothole” issues are always very important, and they’re the ones that tend to generate fairly quick responses from local authorities.
Q: This is bigger than a pothole.
MR. SNOW: Well, I know it’s bigger than a pothole, but what I’m talking about is infrastructure needs. At this juncture, I think it is way premature to talk globally, in terms of some sort of overarching dramatic change in the situation. We’re still — right now, they are still trying to deal with families who want to know where their loved ones are. Let’s find that out. Let’s figure out how to get the artery restored. Let’s figure out what happened. And then we can figure out proper responses.
Q: At what point do the states have — the local government, the state government —
MR. SNOW: No, we’re not pointing the — no, we’re not pointing the finger at anybody —
Q: You’re basically saying that they’re supposed to investigate, and they’re supposed to investigate, and they’re supposed to — so are you —
MR. SNOW: No, April, this is a classic mistake at a time like this. This is not a time for finger-pointing at all. This is a time for dealing with those in grief and also working to assist the state in getting that artery put together as quickly as possible.
Q: So I guess the question is, in light of what has just happened — you talk about it being premature and finger-pointing, but what should Americans look to to have any measure of confidence that this is not about to happen again somewhere else in the country?
MR. SNOW: Well, I mean, look, this is something where you have very rare occurrences like this; people trust their own experience and they know what’s going on. I don’t want to get up here and try to act as if I’m the chief engineer of the United States, because I’m not going to give you a survey of each and every bridge. But I can tell you that there are people who devote their lives to doing this stuff and they’re serious about it.
Q: Doesn’t it raise questions about something in the system being broken? You talk about vigorous inspections, but obviously something was overlooked in this situation.
MR. SNOW: I don’t know what’s obvious, Elaine. Why don’t you wait until somebody finds out, rather — again, I think there’s always a temptation to leap to conclusions, to look for a global one-size-fits-all solution. The most important thing is to be responsible and figure out what the facts are; then you can draw a conclusion that are actually responsive to the facts.
Any questions on this topic? Questions on this topic, hands up, and then we’ll go to other topics.
Q: I guess it comes down to, is there any consideration in the Transportation Department, the Highway Administration, any other federal agency of doing a review of these bridges? All these federal officials today have talked about the deficiencies. Are you telling us that there is no notion at all now —
MR. SNOW: Peter, I’m telling you we’re 18 hours away from a bridge collapse. Let’s figure out what went on —
Q: But this is an alarm bell. Many of these experts see this as an alarm bell.
MR. SNOW: I know. Let’s — right now the first response of this government is to help. It’s to help.
Q: But it’s also investigating already.
MR. SNOW: Well, it is investigating, but I think what you’re asking right now is for a snap decision about national policy 18 hours after cars hit the water. And I think at this juncture, let’s first deal with the humanitarian situation and the immediate transportation needs; there will be time to take a full assessment of what’s going on and we’ll be able to answer questions like that in the future. But 18 hours after the bridge collapsed, without profound knowledge of what went on, I think is just premature.
Same topic or different? Keep your hands down until we’re exhausted with the topics. Go ahead.
Q: Tony, there are conclusions one can draw from this, where you do have reports that maybe thousands of bridges are in bad shape at this point. And every time you give an economic briefing you would think that this was the greatest, most prosperous economy in the world. How much consideration do you take in your estimates about the physical economy of the United States, including the transportation infrastructure?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think you will find, for instance, there was a great debate not too long ago about a highway bill that was the most expensive in U.S. history. You take a look at state budgets, and there is always considerable amount of appropriations for transportation. These are always a budget priority.
I think, yes, you do have a bustling economy, but you do make the point, which is the transportation infrastructure is always a vital and important part of that, and that is why state, local and federal governments are always attentive to those issues.
Q: Was this bridge — or is this bridge a federal interstate bridge, or is it state responsibility? And why did you announce this morning that the President is sending in FBI teams, is there some thought that —
MR. SNOW: No, that was — they did that immediately because, again, you were trying to figure out whether there were terror links or that sort of thing. Those are the — what you want to do is to cover every possibility.
To get back to what it is, it’s an interstate highway. It is something that is — where the Department of Transportation sets the standards for doing inspections and the states, in fact, conduct the inspections and conduct the repairs. That’s the way it works.
Q: Tony, you said that this bridge was a 50 on that scale, and that Secretary Peters said that that meant that the bridge needed to be replaced at some time —
MR. SNOW: At sometime in the future.
Q: What does that mean?
MR. SNOW: You’re going to have to — I don’t — again, don’t try to get me to play engineer, because I’m just not going to do it.
Q: It just sounds like that wishy-washy wording, like you talked about “whenever practicable” —
MR. SNOW: Well, what she — no, she also said —
Q: — “whenever practicable,” when you talk about Democrats and all that —
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the Democratic Governor of the state made the point that he thought —
MR. SNOW: That’s right, the Republican Governor, you’re right, thank you. I was thinking Minnesota. But the Republican Governor also made the point that scheduled rehabilitation was in the future and they both attested to the fact that this was something where someplace in the future — and it is indeterminate, you’re right, it doesn’t say six years or 10 years.
But I think if you are looking for — again, if you want to get nuanced answers and technical answers about that, please don’t ask me. Ask the Department of Transportation, ask the NTSB, because they’re going to be able to give that to you. I mean, I can give you the general outlines. They’re very legitimate questions; they’re just beyond my competence to answer.
Q: Should members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, should they have been requesting funds to repair this bridge, given the fact that it was a 50 and should be replaced sometime in the future?
MR. SNOW: Well, once again, you’re going to have to ask them. What you’re engaging in is 20/20 hindsight. This is something where, again, the state had the responsibility for moving on this. And I honestly don’t know what the state was planning. They were, in fact, in the middle of doing some cosmetic work on the bridge, and they were doing regular inspections on the bridge, as the Governor mentioned today.
But again, a lot of times you don’t have to ask the federal government if you already have a state budget that’s devoted to these things.
But let me just stress again, everybody is trying to do the forensics from right here in the White House press room, 18 hours after a tragedy, where people are still trying to get their minds around it in Minnesota. Let’s help the families, let’s get working as rapidly possible on replacing it. People have already started, as I’ve been pointing out, getting to the scene and trying to figure out what happened.
There will be time to gather facts and to draw conclusions. But the one thing you don’t have to wait for is reaching out and showing compassion, and also showing a determination to fix the problem.
Q: Tony, but don’t you think giving answers will help the families? And not only that, many people in this nation, you could not help — last night and this morning, all you saw was coverage on the bridge. Many people are concerned about riding to work, coming home from work, over bridges —
MR. SNOW: So what do you propose?
Q: I’m asking you the questions. We’re talking about the interstates —
MR. SNOW: I don’t know what the question leads to —
Q: Federal oversight, federal oversight. I’m asking, what responsibility does this government, this administration have, in looking over —
MR. SNOW: This administration.
Q: Any administration.
MR. SNOW: Federal Highway Administration —
MR. SNOW: April, April, again —
Q: Over the highways, the byways, of this nation.
MR. SNOW: Again, let me — look, these are the kinds of questions that, first, invite finger-pointing. I don’t want to engage in that. Secondly, what you’re suggesting, I suppose, is to erect — I don’t even want to get into what it might be suggesting. It’s important to figure out the safety of all structures, and people understand that and this is what state and local officials do. They do it all the time.
Okay, are we —
Q: Is the First Lady —
MR. SNOW: The First Lady will be going tomorrow. Her office will have details about the trip.
Have we exhausted questions on Minnesota?
Q: Is the President?
MR. SNOW: We will let you know if there are any —
Q: Are there —
MR. SNOW: Wait, hang on. Again, we’ll let you know if there are any additions to the President’s schedule.
Q: Also, in regards with Minnesota, is there any plan to support financially the families of the victims?
MR. SNOW: Again, please, let’s figure — at this point, we’re 18 hours into this. There’s going to be plenty of time to work things out. What we’re trying to do is to get people on the ground, to figure out what took place and to figure out how to deal with the structural problems.
MR. SNOW: No! (Laughter.) From Helen? (Laughter.)
Q: You know down to the penny what all the overruns are on the budget. How much does this Iraqi war cost? Who is going to pay for it? And my other question is, yesterday you spoke of many successes in Iraq. I went back to the office and I found out that 140 persons were — bodies were found in Iraq yesterday. Do you call that success?
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t. And it is also one of the things that was pointed out at the beginning of the surge. What you are seeing is the move from terrorists away from U.S. targets to so-called soft targets and civilian targets, and that’s a matter of concern. Civilian casualties were up considerably last month. And it remains a — now, what you see is in some areas where the local populous has risen up and worked against al Qaeda, there’s been a dramatic reduction. But you see in some areas of Baghdad, for instance, where you had a vehicle-borne IED yesterday kill 70 people, that there are efforts to try to intimidate the public by terrorists. We certainly do not say that the battle against terrorists is over, and it does remain a concern.
In terms of the cost of the war, obviously that is something that the generals constantly try to calculate, and they will continue to try to calculate. The cost of defeat are catastrophic and, frankly, insupportable by this country.
Q: Who’s going to pay for it?
MR. SNOW: The taxpayers do pay for it.
Q: Also on Iraq, the Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister is calling the Sunni pullout from the government the gravest political crisis they’ve had since the constitution was adopted. Now, yesterday you seemed to pretty much play down the seriousness of this development. And I’m just wondering, doesn’t the President, in fact, see this as a major blow?
MR. SNOW: This is — I mean, this is an interesting situation. And again, I’ll repeat to you what the Prime Minister said yesterday, which is, what you have is you have a number of ministers who have pulled out of their ministerial portfolios in the government. The parliamentarians have stayed in; some of the other key members, such as the Minister of Defense, the Vice President, they’ve stayed in the government.
It certainly is something where you’ve got to address it. And if you’ve listened to statements by the Sunni party, what they’ve said is they’ve got some questions with the government and with the Prime Minister and they continue to press their concerns. The Prime Minister said that he is interested in listening to and dealing with those concerns. So there are conversations about it.
So, as I said yesterday, I don’t want to try to make predictions about what’s going on, but it is clear that the Prime Minister and the government remain engaged with Tawafuq, the Sunni party, to try to bring the ministers back into the government. As I said, the parliamentarians still remain engaged in the council of representatives when they return for business. So let’s just wait and see. I mean, we’re going to have to see how this plays out.
Q: But considering the importance that this development has for whatever progress is cited in the Petraeus-Crocker report, isn’t —
MR. SNOW: Well, you’re assuming —
Q: — are U.S. diplomats getting involved to push the two sides towards compromise?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think that diplomats have to get involved. The Prime Minister brought it up yesterday. I mean, it’s clearly a concern for him and it’s clearly a concern on the Sunni side. And the fact is they’re engaged in it. What you’re making — what you’re trying to do is a straight line projection based on a two-day story that nothing is going to change over the next six weeks or whatever. It’s pretty clear that the Prime Minister certainly hopes it does.
And if you’ve listened to some of the statements out of the party, they’re still in the process of trying to talk to the government as well. So we will see. I’m not going to try to project out to the time that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker put together a report, because the situation could change dramatically for the better, who knows. And the President certainly made it clear that he expects, and the American people expect, action, not words, in terms of passage of important law. So we will see what happens between now and the time the council of representatives reconvenes.
Q: Tony, yesterday I think it was you had said that there was a constitutional requirement that the Iraqi parliament take a break. You’ve been very critical here today about the U.S. Congress taking exactly the same kind of break in the summer. Why is it okay for the Iraqis to take a break, when it’s not okay for the U.S. to take a break, before the business is done?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I will cite to you what the Iraqis say, which they have a constitutional requirement and they’re abiding by their constitution. What is important is that it is a break — it’s a working break, in the sense that you have the leaders of the three main parties staying in Baghdad, and in fact talking about key pieces of legislation and how to move forward. During the time leading up to the break they doubled their work week from three to six days, they were working six days a week.
Again, we’re not backing off. We made it clear that obviously it is important for that parliament and for the political process to move forward in Iraq.
Q: Thank you, Tony. Going back to the comments you made, you’ve been very clear about what the President is going to veto in terms of appropriations bills coming from Congress. Now, he very strongly signaled and followed up on a veto of the Water Resources Development Act, WRDA, which is an authorization bill, not appropriations. Why did he not consult the former chairman of the Environment Committee and current ranking member, Senator Inhofe? And does he consult with the ranking members in the Senate before a veto?
MR. SNOW: Well, how do you know he didn’t consult Senator Inhofe?
Q: Senator Inhofe told me.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I see. (Laughter.) The fact is — what would Senator Inhofe have recommended?
Q: Well, he would have recommended that he veto an appropriations bill, and not an authorization bill.
MR. SNOW: Well, let me just — well, let me just tell you our position on WRDA. It’s a classic case of what goes on in Washington. The Senate recommended a $14 billion increase for the Water Resources Development Act. The House recommends a $15 billion increase. They get together and they compromise on a $20 billion increase. Only in Washington do you split the difference between $14 billion and $15 billion by raising it to $20 billion. And I think the President wanted to make a pretty strong point about fiscal discipline.
Q: So will he veto other authorization measures before appropriations?
MR. SNOW: Well, we’ll take a look. We’ll take a look.
Q: Tony, on that line, you made a passionate plea for Nussle’s confirmation before Congress leaves.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Is there a thought that that is being used as a negotiating tool?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I mean, it’s — let’s find out what happens. We’re expecting the Budget Committee to vote him out today. Frankly, what you’ve seen are a lot of people who have worked with him in the House and some members of the Senate who had experience with him in the House talk about what a good guy he is, what a competent guy he is — these are key Democrats. And one would expect on that basis that you have enough goodwill to move forward. Certainly you hope that somebody would not use this as a cheesy bargaining chip at a time when, in fact, you’ve got the necessity of getting a budget director confirmed, and a budget director whose personal qualifications, and also whose personal maturity is not in doubt.
Q: Did the President get a sense of that from lawmakers in that meeting yesterday morning?
MR. SNOW: I’m sure — I was not in the meeting, but I don’t get the sense that it was raised to a high level there. But there are continuing conversations between the White House and members of the Senate about this, and we are hopeful that he will be confirmed before we get to recess.
Q: This morning, the President used the same figures you presented yesterday, breaking down the —
MR. SNOW: Well, he added minutes and seconds. But, you know —
Q: But breaking down figures like this — $4 million an hour. Why is that an appropriate course of action? Have you ever broken down the cost of the Iraq war, per hour?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think — no, but we can certainly do that. But what we’re talking about here is a difference in spending. At a time — keep in mind, what Democrats were saying, look, there’s only 0.7 percent difference between our proposal and the President’s. And we’re saying, no there isn’t, because what you’re really talking about is a program which, in typical Washington fashion, starts with a little wedge and the spending rapidly increases. So it’s perfectly appropriate to explain to taxpayers out there, who are asking themselves, should they be spending this much more money; what is it going to mean for me. There is no secret, I don’t think, about the costs of the war. Those have been made public and people have had an opportunity to think about them.
But on the other hand, when you’re also talking about add-ons to a budget, where the President is exercising fiscal discipline, it’s perfectly fair to compare and contrast what the differences are. And those are all bills that — by the way, the war is something that has, in fact, been financed on a bipartisan basis by both Houses of Congress.
Q: And do you have any idea what the Iraq combat costs per hour?
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t.
Q: Tony, we’re about to brush up against the limit on the national debt. Is there going to be a move to raise the limit?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I mean, typically that happens. Obviously at some point you have to, when you hit the debt limit. But I don’t have anything for you on it, Jim.
Q: Tony, could you talk just a little bit about the politics of a recess appoint of Nussle, if it came to that? I mean, is there an upside to it at all?
MR. SNOW: No. No, I’m just not going to play.
Q: Tony, can you explain why the legal minds here thought that it was okay for Scott Jennings to testify today, but not — I should say, appear today — but not Karl Rove?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it’s actually a legal theory that goes back some decades. William Rehnquist first propounded it in the 1970s. Which is, when it comes to executive privilege, those who are not required to testify are those who meet on a regular basis with the President. That would include people like me. Scott Jennings was not somebody who met on a regular basis with the President. Same with Sara Taylor. As a consequence, the Department of Justice, in reviewing the laws that govern such things has come to the conclusion — this was a DOJ/Steve Bradbury opinion — the Department of Justice has come to the conclusion that, in fact, they must appear. On the other hand, when matters of executive privilege do come up, they’re not compelled to give testimony or hand over documents.
Q: Beyond the legal thinking, was there any political concern here that there was a specter of this guy being sort of a sacrificial lamb, sitting there today the way he —
MR. SNOW: No. No, what we’re doing is we’re obeying the law.
Q: Tony, two quick questions. One, yesterday Congressman Gary Ackerman, also, head of Committee on Foreign Relations, has been in South Asia, conditions in South Asia. And this weekend President Karzai from Afghanistan will meet with President (inaudible). What do you think they are going to talk about, as far as the situation in the region is concerned, because so much has been written about it?
MR. SNOW: What do you think? I mean, they’re going to talk about increasing security and economic cooperation.
Q: (Inaudible) solution, as far as problems —
MR. SNOW: Solutions —
Q: — Afghanistan and each country is concerned, al Qaeda —
MR. SNOW: Goyal, I think you understand that these are complex issues and you don’t sort of march up the driveway and say, good news, we’ve got it solved. Instead what you do is you demonstrate that you’re working together in a very determined way to address a series of very complicated issues.
There should be no mistake of our commitment to a successful democracy in Afghanistan. And there are a whole series of concerns — everything from Taliban activity to al Qaeda and Taliban incursions; matters of security, economic development, poppy fields — I mean, all of those things remain concerns. And we will continue to do what we can to support the government of Hamid Karzai.
Q: Two Presidents will have —
Q: Tony, tomorrow at all, are you prepared to talk about tomorrow? Is he going to —
MR. SNOW: Again, we’ve got nothing to announce.
Q: Can you talk about the Lebanon seizure order?
MR. SNOW: You can come up and I’ll give you that.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT