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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 14, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                           The Roosevelt Room

3:00 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I asked you here today so I could make some remarks about airline safety. But in view of an item that was in the morning news, I would like to also say a few words about the efforts we're making to ensure prescription drug coverage for millions of our senior citizens and disabled Americans who rely on Medicare.

Last year, I proposed a comprehensive plan to modernize Medicare to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to extend the life of the trust fund and add a much-needed voluntary option for prescription drug coverage. And, as you know, there's been some considerable resistance up until now from both the drug companies and from some in Congress.

Today's news that the drug companies say they are ready to work with us on providing affordable optional drug coverage and making sure older people have access to the highest quality medications developed is a very good first step. Now, what we need is positive actions from the drug company and positive action in Congress -- not just on the benefit, but on the efforts to strengthen and extend the life of the Medicare trust fund.

I hope that this is a good beginning of what can be a very good year for the American people.

Now, let me begin my remarks by welcoming and thanking the people who are here with me, beginning with our FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Mort Downey, American Airlines Chairman Don Carty, Delta Airlines CEO Leo Mullen, First Vice President of the Airline Pilots Association International Dennis Dolan, Allied Pilots Association President Richard LaVoy, and Mark DeAngelis, the Aviation Safety Action Program Representative for the Transport Workers Union.

Three years ago, I asked Vice President Gore to lead a commission on aviation safety and security, looking at how to make our skies as safe as they can possibly be. Already, there is less than one fatal crash for every one million commercial flights. But we know we can do better still. Any accident, any death in the air is still one too many.

The commission set a goal of reducing fatal accidents by 80 percent over 10 years. Its members agreed that the best way to meet the goal was to stop accidents before they happen and identify problems before they have terrible consequences. This is a completely different way of looking at safety. It requires business, labor and regulators to work together in a completely different way -- as partners, not adversaries. Everyone must focus on fixing problems, not fixing blame.

I'm proud to be here with all these people today to announce a new partnership among business, labor and government to set us ahead of the curve on safety. Under aviation safety action programs, pilots will report problems or concerns immediately to safety experts at their airline and the Federal Aviation Administration. They'll be encouraged to share their valuable insights about doing a job more safely. They will be freed from the fear of being disciplined for admitting that something went wrong.

The FAA will still have the right to take action against deliberate violations of aviation rules, criminal activity or drug and alcohol use. The experts will get the data they need to stay in front on safety, to solve problems, evaluate existing safety systems and propose new ones.

We know these programs will work because American Airlines and its pilots have run one as a demonstration for more than five years now. Pilots reported literally thousands of concerns to the FAA. Those reports produced real improvements, in procedures and in equipment. They even helped designers and builders create safer planes and airports.

For example, pilots' expertise changed the way some airports use lights and signs on the runways, and pilots helped to rewrite the safety checklist they must complete while planes taxi from the gate. And when American extended its program to mechanics and dispatchers, they improved equipment manuals and maintenance procedures.

I hope we'll be able to follow their example and open this program to all the people who make airplanes fly -- flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers. For the first time, we have regulators, business and labor working as real partners. When it comes to safety, everyone has a responsibility. We want everyone on the team. And let me again say, I have only the profoundest gratitude, on behalf of all the American people, and especially those who will be in airplanes in the future, to all those who are here with me today, and those whom they represent.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, why are you dropping caps on the budget, which were so dear to you in the past?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the caps were literally completely shredded in the last budget by the majority in Congress. And so what I have to do now is to adopt an honest budget based on the spending levels that were adopted, in the reasonable expectation that inflation at least will be taken care of, particularly in defense, if you will remember, we had a big issue about how much the defense budget would be increased, but there were other increases, as well.

So you will see when my budget comes out that it still does everything I said we have to do. It invests more in education, science and technology, and other important areas. It protects the money necessary to take Social Security out beyond the life of the baby boom generation, to extend the life of Medicare, and very importantly, will still allow us to get out of debt, for the first time since 1835, over the next 15 years.

So all the budget objectives that I have -- continue to run the surpluses, getting the country out of debt, but continue to invest in the things we need -- will be met by the budget I present to Congress.

Q Mr. President, a pharmaceutical industry spokesman today did say that your plan is still unacceptable to them, and if you come back with the same plan they'll still fight you on this. My question to you is, are you prepared to compromise with them? And what is your understanding -- if their big objection is the danger of price caps not only on Medicare drugs, but that this could spill over to the commercial sector --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, there's no danger of price caps. But what I think they're worried about is the fact that if the government becomes a big buyer, that we'll be able to bargain for lower prices at greater volume. I don't think that's a bad thing.

You know, someone ought to ask them how they can possibly justify the fact that American senior citizens are now being carried across the border to Canada to buy drugs produced in America by American drug companies, with the help of public funds that have paid for research, with the availability of tax deductions for research and all of that, and Americans are going across the border in Canada and buying the same drugs for less than half of what they cost here.

So I think what they ought to do is come sit down with us and let's see if we can agree on a common approach. There may be a way that we can agree on an approach. That's why I was somewhat cautious in my remarks today.

I think it's a good thing that they recognize that it would be better if Medicare could provide this benefit, because we know 75 percent of our senior citizens and probably a higher percentage of our disabled people who need medications, cannot afford what they need. And we know it can not only lengthen life and in many cases save lives, but it can also improve the quality of life.

So I think it's a very important issue. And I take their offer in a positive way and I just hope they'll come sit down with us and we'll try to sit down with them and with people in both parties in Congress who care about this, and see if we can't work out a common position that we can pass, because I think it's a very important issue.

Q Do you think it's real, not a PR move on their part just to keep you from bashing them?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. You know, I don't like to bash people. I never have done that as an option of first choice. And I'm not bashing them today. But I think that their big problem is that ordinary Americans now know that if they live close enough to the Canadian border, they could cross the border and buy a lot of drugs for half what they pay here, and in many other countries, even though the drugs are produced here by our companies, and that any large producer will do the best -- like in the private sector, try to get the best bargain they can.

But if there's some way to work through this, I'll be glad to sit down and make sure our people are available to them, and we'll try to work it out.

Q Mr. President, is it right to offer financial incentives to TV networks for incorporating antidrug messages into scripts? And are you inclined to try to seek similar incentives for other issues involving TV programming, like, say, gun violence?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all let me say, it is my understanding that what General McCaffrey was trying to do is to amplify the impact of the advertising program that we have been running -- and keep in mind, a number of networks have agreed not only to take paid ads, but have run a lot of our ads for free or reduced rates. And they are under an obligation to run public service announcements.

I think that General McCaffrey reached a conclusion based on how many people see public service announcements that are on late at night as opposed to prime-time programming that more people watch, that if the networks were willing to put a good antidrug message in heavily-watched programs, particularly by the most vulnerable young people, that would be a good thing. And it's my understanding that there's nothing mandatory about this, that there was no attempt to regulate content or tell people what they had to put into it -- of course, I wouldn't support that. But I think he's done a very good job at increasing the sort of public interest component of what young people hear on the media, and I think it's working; we see drug use dropping.

And let me say, I've talked to a lot of people in the entertainment community who liked the idea that without compromising the integrity of their programs, they might be involved in all kinds of public service efforts. So that's where I am on this. This was his initiative and I hadn't given any thought to the question of whether it might be applied in other ways, frankly.

Q Do you think it's a deceptive move? It could be used for other messages in the future.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it could be. If the government were writing the content, it could be. And I don't think we should be doing that. I think that -- however, I think what General McCaffrey tried to do -- which was to say, look, if you will do this, this can count against your obligation to run public service announcements which, as you know, are very often run in off hours and times when not many people are watching -- I think this guy's intense and passionate and committed, and we've got too many kids using drugs, still. So I think that's what he was trying to do. I don't think there was any attempt to try to undermine the content or the independence or the integrity of the networks and the programming.

Q -- on aviation safety, the Europeans have been very successful not doing what you're announcing today, but downloading data from airplanes, analyzing hundreds of flights for patterns that could cause problems. We don't do that much in this country, because there's still a dispute between the airlines and the FAA over what would happen if this turned up some violations that could result in prosecutions. When are we going to get the kind of safety program they're using successfully in Europe to analyze data instead of pilot reports?

THE PRESIDENT: Jane, you want to answer that?

ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Thanks, Mr. President. Nice to see you, Matt. Well, first of all, as you know we're really looking at the whole issue of FOQAL. We do have a policy in place which -- the policy allows the information to be protected, which we think is very, very good. We've got a number of airlines who are working with us on that issue.

I think the real critical question is, when can we see that in an actual rule? And we are working that through the administration, and working very hard to see it in a rule-making. I think it's absolutely the right direction. And certainly the combination of the information we can get from the flight data recorders, as well as the information we can get from the pilots or the mechanics, makes a very powerful tool. So I'm glad we have the policy in place, and we're moving toward the rule-making.

THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to make a general comment about this, and then we've got to go. I'm obviously not an expert in how airlines work, but I know quite a bit about production processes and manufacturing. It's something I've spent a lot of time studying over nearly 20 years now. It was a big part of the job I used to have when I was a governor. And I can tell you that the kind of teamwork approach that has been announced today, in making people feel they won't be punished when they say they think there's something wrong or a mistake was made, was, in my judgment, the most significant factor leading all kinds of American manufacturers to a zero-defect approach, which had a major role in the resurgence of the manufacturing sector over the last decade, and a major role in the comeback of the American economy.

So I believe that what they're doing here is very important. It is not rational to believe that what has worked so well in some other sector of our economy won't work just as well here. I think it's a great thing, and I thank them for doing it.

Q Should Michael Jordan come to Washington?

THE PRESIDENT: You bet. It will be fun. (Laughter.) That's a no-brainer. (Laughter.) Thanks.

END 3:15 P.M. EST