Getting back into the gaggle groove we find Little Scottie leaving an opening for Helen Thomas.
MR. McCLELLAN: The policies that this President has pursued are bold ones and they are ones that are achieving real results for all Americans. The President, from day one, has been acting to move forward on bold initiatives to produce real results that are helping all Americans.
Q If he was so bold, why do we have 37 million people living below the poverty line?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, do you want me to go back and talk about the economy?
Q I mean, if his policies are so great.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll be glad to go — more Americans are working than ever before, Helen. We’ve —
Q Thirty-seven million below the poverty —
MR. McCLELLAN: — seen the unemployment rate drop to 4.9 percent because of the action that this President has taken. We’ve seen more than 4 million jobs created since May of 2003.
Now, this storm has had an impact, and it will have a short-term impact on our national economy. But I think if you look at most — what most economists are saying, they continue to see strong and sustained growth as we move forward. It’s going to have an impact in the short-term on the upcoming quarters that we’ll see coming out in terms of growth and job creation.
But keeping our national economy growing is a key lifeline to the region. And the President — remember, when we came into office, the stock market had declined significantly, we were inheriting a recession, then you had the attacks of September 11th. So this economy has proven to be very strong and resilient in the face of significant challenges because of the policies this President has acted on to implement.
Meanwhile, President Drunkensailor is called to account.
Q Well, what does the President have to say to members of his own party, other conservatives, activists, pundits, who criticize him for wanting to have it all? He wants to have guns and butter, he wants to fund Iraq, he wants to have tax cuts, and now he wants to put together the largest reconstruction effort the world has ever seen.
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the characterization, because the President the other day clearly stated that we’ve got to make sure that we work with state and local officials to have a well-planned rebuilding effort. This is one of the — this is going to be one of the largest reconstruction efforts ever.
Q But how can we afford it?
MR. McCLELLAN: And we are going to — well, first of all —
Q How can we afford it?
MR. McCLELLAN: — first of all, we are going to meet the needs of the people in the region. The President was adamant about that. We are going to do what it takes. We have an obligation, as a nation, to help the people in the region rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities. We also have an obligation to move forward on — in a well thought out way with those state and local officials. It will be driven by the local vision, but we’re there to support them. And the President made clear that the infrastructure is going to be costly. But the federal government is going to be there to pick up a large portion of those costs.
And that’s why it’s important that we move forward to make sure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely in the region, and we have —
Q But —
MR. McCLELLAN: — hang on, hang on — we have inspector generals’ teams in the region that will work to make sure that that happens. And as we move forward to address the needs in the region, we also need to look at our budget and where there’s unnecessary spending happening, we need to make cuts. The President has made that very clear.
Q Where? Where?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are savings that we proposed in our budget, like I said, that Congress has yet to act on. That’s a starting point. Other members are talking about various ideas. We are —
Q You’re not coming up with any ideas. Congressman Mike Pense suggested delaying the prescription drug implementation to ’07, that would save $40 billion, and Josh Bolten wouldn’t even entertain it. I mean, isn’t part of the problem is that it’s kind of a sham to tell the American people that your federal government will do it all, but yet again, we won’t ask for any sacrifice —
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with your characterization, because this President —
Q Well, where are the cuts?
MR. McCLELLAN: — from day one has worked to cut non-security discretionary spending. And he’s also worked to address other priorities, like entitlements, which drive a lot of costs, as well, and to implement important reforms. We reformed Medicare and put in some cost controls to start that process of addressing some of those issues.
Q You’re conveniently not addressing members of the President’s own party that say that —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we’re —
Q — this guy spends like a Democrat, and they’re — that he’s trying to create the New Deal again. I mean, what about criticism from your own party, that it’s, hey, big spender, when are you — how are you going to do the math?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look at our budgets, David. You seem to conveniently ignore the facts. Our budgets have —
Q I looked at the budgets. I’m looking at the deficit. I’m just wondering what you’re going to do about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: — have put forward significant savings on a number of programs. Congress has yet to act on those. We encourage Congress to move forward and act on those. There’s tens of billions of dollars of savings in some of those proposals, and that’s a good starting point. But we’re going to work with Congress to offset the cost by focusing on unnecessary spending.
Now, there are important priorities that we must meet. The number one obligation this President has is the safety and security of the American people. And we are going to meet that priority. We are going to continue to move forward on winning the war on terrorism to prevent something like what happened on September 11th from ever happening again, and we’re going to move forward on addressing the needs of the people in the region to make sure that they —
Q And no sacrifice —
MR. McCLELLAN: — get back up on their feet and that they rebuild their lives and rebuild the communities. But the President made it clear that we also have got to find cuts elsewhere in the budget where that spending is not essential.