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Text: Senate Leaders Thomas Daschle and Trent Lott

eMediaMillWorks


eMedia Millworks
Friday, September 21, 2001

Following is the full text of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle and Minority Leader Trent Lott's news conference addressing the airline aid bill and other matters.

DASCHLE: Why don't I just talk about a few things.

As to the schedule, we will be on the defense authorization bill this morning. And Senator Levin and Senator Warner have really done a great job of trying to continue to resolve the outstanding issues, and I won't elaborate on those, you all know what they are. And I think we're at a point now where we can lay the bill down and keep working at it. So we'll be in today on that.

We will also be in on Monday. I told my caucus, Senator Lott and I both told our caucuses that we will expect to have votes as early as 12:00 on Monday. And we may be in over the weekend, and I'll come back to that in a minute. We'll be in on Tuesday, and then we'll be on Wednesday until 2:00, and then we will observe the Jewish holiday.

And because of the, at least right, I'll say, I mean who knows what the week holds, but at least right now I do not anticipate coming back on Friday. Even though we would not be celebrating the holiday any longer, I think it would just be too much of an inconvenience. And since it is possible that we'll be here this weekend, I decided that we wouldn't be in on Friday.

We will attempt to pass a continuing resolution, as you know, through the 16th of October, and then work on appropriations bills, which has been the subject of a separate set of negotiations, and begin working on those again, too. But October 1 is a week from Monday, and so we have to pass the CR, and we have to do it in the next couple of days.

The biggest issue, of course, is the airline legislation. You all know what the pieces are. I think your questions now involve just what are the current circumstances.

We are still negotiating some of the pieces. There is a concern among many, as I understand it, Republican and Democratic colleagues--I happen to share this concern--that we need some objective accounting of the financial condition to be absolutely certain that it isn't just airline numbers we're counting on or relying on as we make these important decisions. I think we can do that.

There is also, of course, a very, very big concern about addressing the need for greater security. Most people in my caucus, almost every one of them said, You're never going to get the airlines back economically until people are confident that they can fly securely. So we need to address the security issue.

As you may recall, $3 billion of the $20 billion that we approved last week was dedicated to security. So we are putting security measures in place, and I intend to talk to the president about clarifying and maybe making sure that on a, you know, on a bipartisan and in every way possible we talk at the leadership level about security. And so we're going to do that.

We recognize as well that this bill is really just the first installment of a series of other pieces of legislation that we have to address involving airlines and other issues. There has to be, there has to be an effort to address all of those employees who have been laid off, and we will do that. That will be part of another installment of this legislation--of the effort to address the industry.

But it really has to go beyond airlines. As you know, Boeing laid off 30,000 people. So it isn't just an airline issue. And so we are going to address the question of unemployment and benefits and survivability for families affected by this.

The second thing, of course, is we have to address in a much more comprehensive way the security question. The president's commission, as I understand it, reports to him on a week from Monday. We already have the $3 billion commitment to security that we will elaborate in greater detail in terms of its implications for security in the next few weeks.

But we really want, as aggressively as possible, to address the security question, and we're going to do that.

There are other issues involving rural service and other matters that, depending on how these negotiations play out, we may be addressing as well in a future bill.

So all of that is just a way of saying that we see this clearly as the first installment of a series of bills that we have to address.

But having said that, the installment that we are working on is one of such urgency that we do expect and hope to be able to take it up today. If not today, tomorrow. But we want to finish this before the end of the weekend. So that's our hope. I haven't had a chance to talk to Senator Lott since our caucuses, so unless he's reported to you, I don't know if--I don't have any real understanding...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Don't you do everything together now?

(LAUGHTER)

LOTT: We are still meeting in conference, but we're on other issues we're actually talking schedule on now. Senator Dashcle has been very clear that we need to stay and get this airport bill done and that we're going to be in session--did you talk about Monday--and we agree with that and support that.

We've discussed all the components of the package that has been put together laboriously between House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats and administration, and we're prepared to go to the floor and vote at the earliest possible opportunity.

I want to speak to Senator Daschle about exactly when and how we could get that done. But I had a call into him, and then my staff told me he was here saying we're ready to go once we talk and can get a fix on the time.

We think that it's important that we do this and that we do it now, that we not allow this to drag over into next week. We have a couple of other issues we must deal with, the continuing resolution, obviously, and hopefully the defense authorization bill. We'd like to get at least those three done before we honor the Jewish holiday next week beginning at noon on Wednesday.

In order to do that, we've got to keep working together, as we have over the past two weeks. So we should stay focused.

And I think that this airline package is one of the keys to showing that we're determined to do what's necessary to be helpful to this industry, which is a key leverage component of our economy. And for us not to act, I think, would not be the responsible thing to do.

QUESTION: Having said that, besides the grants and the loans for the airlines, what other aspects of this issue do you expect to be included in the first bill the Senate considers?

LOTT: You didn't go through the details of it?

DASCHLE: No, I didn't.

LOTT: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

DASCHLE: Let me just tell you the categories, without giving the details, because as I think I said earlier, there are still staff negotiations on these things and I don't want to misspeak.

But the categories are the following. There's the direct assistance, the cash assistance to be provided, and I think everybody understands--at least right now our understanding is that it's still $5 billion.

LOTT: That's correct.

DASCHLE: There's a $10 billion loan guarantee. There's a prospective liability preemption. And then there is a retrospective liability preemption with a victims relief fund that will be set up through the government to provide assistance to victims should victims choose to go that route rather than the courts.

Those four categories are there. Now, there is also some discussion about rural service and how we address that, and that's still open. And as I said earlier, some discussion as well about accountability for all of this that Senator Lott has said is very important to all of us, and he spoke for all of us when he said it.

So some of those issues still have to be refined. But that's where we are right now.

QUESTION: What I meant was besides the loans and the credits, what other of these issues that you've discussed, the airport security, whatever...

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: Well, the airport security, if I may say, I believe the administration already has the authority that it needs and is beginning to act in that area. And I believe that that $3 billion could come out of the first increment of $10 billion, and so we don't need to take additional action at this time on that. We may subsequently need to do that.

And I think that there are some other subsidiary or collateral issues in this area that are going to have to be addressed in the next week or two. What we're trying to accomplish here now is the essential components that are important for the airlines to be able to stay in business and provide service to the flying American public, give them confidence on security, and do it quickly so it can have the desired impact.

There are issues that are important but we can't agree on quickly. We will continue working those.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, on the independent accounting you mentioned, would you pass the bill before having an independent accounting of what the airline needs?

DASCHLE: What as I understand the staff may be working on is some ability on the part of the government to clarify just what the needs are and how the needs would be met with this bill to everyone's satisfaction prior to the time the money is release. It would just be a degree of accountability required prior to the time we commit resources. And that's really...

LOTT: Let me, if I may, add to that.

DASCHLE: Please.

LOTT: There is a provision that is included in the section that Senator Daschle referred to that gets to that point. It does set up a board to review how these, I guess, loans would be handled, that includes, I believe, the secretary of treasury, the Fed chairman, the comptroller general and the secretary of transportation. So there is a board that will be involved in that.

There is some degree of flexibility for the administration in how the guaranteed loans would be done, and I think that's, you know, the Congress has given that degree of faith to the administration. But we need to have some understanding and some process to review that and make sure that it's done in a fair way. And that board at will help that.

QUESTION: Senators, on the larger ball of wax that you've been negotiating, you're talking about a CR, getting appropriations bills done and the law enforcement enhancements, the airport security, the economic stimulus package, there's also some talk in the hallways about a select committee on terrorism.

Once you get the housekeeping and the immediate economic needs dealt with, what is the role of Congress in defining this what Secretary Rumsfeld calls a new war, this new vocabulary, this new construct? How is Congress going to play a role in what's going to happen?

DASCHLE: Well, Senator Lott and I have made very clear that we think Congress is an equal branch of government in all aspects relating to how we conduct our business, both with regard to the war on terrorism as well as the other matters involving intelligence gathering and the resources required to ensure that we can be successful.

Senator Lott and I have talked, not to the extent that we'd like at this point because we've been so preoccupied, but about ways with which we might address this matter in a more organized way. I have raised it already with my chairmen, and I hope to sit down with Senator Lott in the not-too-distant future to further pursue how we might address this matter. But we recognize that this is a unique set of circumstances that may require a unique response from Congress.

LOTT: And I'd like to add to that. We have to review our hand as to how our house operates in this area of terrorism and security and law enforcement, just as the administration is having to do. And one of the results, of course, is the decision to have this new Cabinet position for homeland security.

We will have further discussions, because it does need to be reviewed, but I think it also involves on our part a lot of consultation, because there are a lot of very capable senators, men and women that are already working in these areas, and they need to be a part of the process. And we've been so busy doing incredible things with the president in a bipartisan way, we just hadn't had time to focus on that, but we won't let it lay very long.

QUESTION: Can I ask both of you whether or not, with all the additional spending for airlines and defense and security and so forth, whether you believe that a new budget resolution for '02 that reflects the new realities, and perhaps stimulus and all that, needs to be passed by the Congress. And are either of your caucuses working on such a budget resolution?

DASCHLE: Well, obviously there are very serious budgetary ramifications with all that we're addressing. I don't know that we need to compound our challenges legislatively by adding yet another requirement here. We've got an emergency. The budget resolution we passed clearly recognizes what one does in an emergency. And we are not going to abuse the authorization given to us in times of an emergency.

But we also have to recognize, as Senator Lott just said, we couldn't be busier. We couldn't be more fully occupied with our desire sincerely to respond as effectively as we can. I think we're doing it responsibly. And I think we're doing it responsibly from a budgetary point of view, as well. But I have no, at least, initial desire to reopen the budget resolution at this time.

QUESTION: Will this first airline bill include some limits on the government's liability in all of this? And if so, at what point does that liability end?

DASCHLE: Well, again, I think what we'll do is talk to the specifics with regard to many of these issues as soon as the draft becomes available to us. It isn't available, and I want to withhold any further comment.

We got to go back to work.

Thanks everybody.

LOTT: Thank you very much.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company