Clinton's Views on Powell, Medicare, and Omelettes

Excerpts from a Monitor luncheon with President Clinton in the White House on Sept. 25.

On a balanced budget and the debt limit

If we were to default on our debt, you have seen already in other countries, in events just in the last 12 months, how rapidly the financial markets react to such things. And what they would do is to say that the United States is no longer reliable. Then the cost of carrying our debt, the interest rates, would be raised, and that would make it harder to balance the budget.

We can reach an accord here on balancing the budget. But there is a process that we have to go through to do that. We are not going to have a unilaterally dictated budget; we are going to have a discussion about it. And as I said, more than any Democrat in many years, I've shown not only a willingness, but a desire to make the government smaller, less bureaucratic, more entrepreneurial, and to target investments while reducing unnecessary spending. We can make this work.

But blackmail is not the way to do it, and I'm not going to be blackmailed. And I'm not going to just sign a budget that I know will put people out of nursing homes or deprive people of the chance to go to college or children the chance to be in Head Start or compromise the environment. I'm not going to do that; I'm just not going to do that. We can get a balanced budget that the entire financial world thinks is a great thing. But it has to be done in an honorable way, and defaulting on our debts is not

an honorable thing to do.

On Colin Powell

I was grateful for his statement [in favor of an assault weapons ban]. And this is no criticism of him to say this, I want to emphasize that - I wish that more Americans who agreed on the assault weapons ban and the Brady bill had been out there last November. It might have made a difference. But that's not a criticism of him because he's coming out of a period of military service when he didn't feel that he should be a public spokesman.

I was grateful for what he said about abortion, that he didn't want to criminalize it, but that we should reduce it and emphasize adoption more because that's what I've worked very hard to do....

And I was grateful for what he said about affirmative action, because I believe in the kind of affirmative action practiced in the United States Army, and I don't believe it constitutes quotas or reverse discrimination or giving unqualified people things they shouldn't have.

So all I can say to you is that on those statements that he has made, I am profoundly appreciative. I think it's helped America to stay kind of in the sensible center and moving forward instead of being pulled too far in one direction or the other.

On NATO airstrikes in Bosnia

Well, as you know, the United States was willing to do it earlier.... If there had been a stronger allied response earlier, would it have made a difference? I think quite likely it could have. But I - and, you know, we can revisit that. The main thing we need to say is that we have a chance now to make a decent and honorable peace. The changes on the ground, the diplomatic mission, and the bombing campaign all contributed to it.

On Medicare

... There are two issues here in Medicare that shouldn't be lost, and I don't want to overcomplicate this. The first question is, right now, from now until the end of the decade and into the first few years of the next century, let's stabilize the Medicare trust fund so that we get back up to where it normally has been over the last 30 years....

The second issue is a very big issue, but it's totally unaddressed here, and that is what happens when the baby boom retires and how will that change things? There ought to be a long-term effort to address that. But that is not addressed by any of these proposals here, and so we shouldn't confuse them.

On the Monitor breakfasts

Someone told me that you [Godfrey Sperling Jr.] had done 2,800 of these [Monitor breakfasts] now. I was trying to think of the significance of them. One of them is that I noticed from the breakfast that I've been to, they are notoriously high cholesterol. And so you are - your ... condition is a stunning rebuke to all of those who advocate healthy eating.

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