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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Rep. Charles Rangel Discusses Campaign 2000 and the Legislative Agenda

Aired August 19, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET



Now, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: I'm Mark Shields. Robert Novak and I will question a leading Democrat on tax policy in the U.S. Congress.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.


(voice-over): If Democrats regain control of Congress, Charlie Rangel will become chairman of a powerful committee with a wide jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security and trade.

In his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Al Gore outlined his agenda for Ways and Means:


ALBERT A. GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll fight for a new tax-free way to help you save and build a bigger nest egg for your retirement. But I will not go along with any proposals to strip one out of ever $6 from the Social Security trust fund and privatize the Social Security that you're counting on.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel was elected to the House of Representatives 30 years ago, when as a two-term New York state assemblyman, he edged out the famous Adam Clayton Powell for the Harlem congressional seat. He has been ranking Democrat on Ways and Means since 1997.


NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, in your campaign to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, you have collected some $4 million from corporate interests, the same corporate interests who contributed to your -- to the current Republican chairman, Bill Archer. Do these interests not see any difference between you and the conservative Republican as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: My raising of moneys has nothing to do with my campaign to become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. It has a heck of a lot to do in the Democrats's restoring control to the Congress. But I can tell you this, notwithstanding my success in raising funds both corporate and individual, there is no higher priority I have than to have congressional campaign reform.

To me, one of the dangers of the institution is giving to these faceless finance committees, whether Republican or Democrat. And I think it's time, as Vice President Gore would say, to make it our No. 1 priority. The vice president said that when he becomes president, campaign reform is going to be his No. 1 bill. I support that.

NOVAK: That isn't quite what I asked you, sir. I asked you whether you believe, or whether the corporate interests who contributed both to you and to the Republicans, feel there's no real difference in how policy on all these important issues will be conducted, once you're chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? Otherwise, why would they give money to you?

RANGEL: Bob Novak, I'm good and you know it, but I'm not so good that I can tell you what people who make contributions are actually thinking.

Obviously, they're not fearful that I'm going to be a threat to economic growth, to the business sector, to trying to create a climate that we can have a work force that is educated, that we're going to use Medicare, which is a part of our jurisdiction, to make certain that we get treatment for people and not just in the vested private sector.

And they have evaluated, and they have found out that Democrats are no threat to the economic growth of this country. And many of them welcome a change.

NOVAK: Well, can't we -- can we just be blunt, sir? Aren't they giving you money for insurance purposes, to make sure that they can get in your office, if and when you get to be chairman?

RANGEL: I have had no problem with anybody ever getting my office and you should know that, or anyone that has tried to do it, and so you don't have to pay to see me. You never have, and God willing no one ever will.

SHIELDS: Congressman Rangel, Democrats this year have been able to raise, actually at the House level, more money than the Republicans, and you're right: Vice President Gore did say campaign finance would be his number-one item, when, in fact, he's elected, if he's elected, but doesn't that ring a little hollow? He didn't endorse McCain-Feingold. He just said, "campaign finance reform." I mean, doesn't that ring a little hollow to folks who are looking for real reform?

RANGEL: What we really have to do is to get the public to understand the danger to the institutions that by not having campaign reform what it can do. I'm not concerned about members of Congress or the Senate being corrupted, or the chairman being corrupted, but when millions of dollars are going to faceless committees, none of whom that have people who are accountable collecting the money, then you will be able to see what can happen and is happening is that major legislation doesn't come from the chairman of the committee or the committees themselves. They come from these committees, these political committees, and never pass the working committees that we have now.

I stood on the Ways and Means Committee. I've seen tax bills never come to the tax-writing committee, but it comes from the speaker's rules committee, and we've got to stop that. You don't have to put labels, or which campaign bill you're going to support.

We have to educate the American community that no matter what committee it is, Republican or Democrat, that we have to reform the system. And they have to be outraged and say that they're not going to tolerate lack of action by either party.

SHIELDS: Congressman Rangel, maybe it's something to do with the fact that Governor Bush has raised $100 million, but he has led in every poll taken since he's got into the race over Vice President Bush in spite of these remarkable economic times, and the fact that people think the economy is better than it's ever been in their lifetime.

This week in Los Angeles, your leader, Dick Gephardt, said Democrats, even if Al Gore lost in November, could win the House. Is that true? Isn't the House riding on this presidential race?

RANGEL: No, no, no. Actually, the American people are so sophisticated that they determine on an individual basis how they're going to vote for president, how they're going to vote for House members, and for Senate members. And so to the extent that it's going to be a close race the outcome will not impact the ability of the Democrats to take back the House.

But I truly believe that the recent polls, as the result of a very successful Democratic convention, proves that even though it's a slight edge, that Vice President Gore is ahead. In any event, pundits such as Bob Novak, who studies this far more than I do, would have to agree that past elections will prove that it'll be only after Election Day that people focus in on what I hope is, what is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat? What are the legislative differences, and not what are the personality differences.

NOVAK: You mean, after Labor Day?


NOVAK: All right.

RANGEL: That's what I meant to say, after Labor Day.

NOVAK: Mr. Rangel, the speech that was made at the convention by Vice President Gore said that he would like to give tax cuts to the people who need it. Now, the way the whole program shapes up is that there's tax cuts for lower-income people but not for higher-income people, so aren't you advocating another redistribution of income, following the redistribution of income in 1993?

RANGEL: That's just not so. I would think the main purpose of having a tax policy is to make certain that it does no harm, that it promotes economic growth, and that we really don't get back to the Bush deficits of $290 billion and treat, really, try to encourage him to continue the surpluses that have been built up in the Clinton-Gore years.

In order to do this, we have -- we should be able to take the surplus and repair the roof while the sun is shining, to take care of Social Security and the Medicare, but we should be able to give responsible tax cuts to working people and people who deserve it, to take...

NOVAK: But only the...

RANGEL: ... to take care of the inequities in the laws, so that people who just died, that it's not a taxable event, that we can protect more businesses and farmers, that we would not have a penalty for people who are just married that individually would have a lower tax cut, and that we should target these things to do it, and then after we're able to do the things that we wanted to do over the years and just didn't have the money to do it, then we would think about something that's larger.

But if what you're suggesting, Bob, is that we should take the surplus that we have now, and forget about paying down our national debt and to do something that the Republicans tried to do last year, and that is to have a $1 trillion across-the-bill tax cut which is being suggested again by Governor Bush, we think it's economically wrong and morally wrong.

SHIELDS: We have to take a break right now, and we'll be back in just a moment to talk about the politics of 2000, the African-American community, and the first Jew on a national ticket.


NOVAK: Mr. Rangel, your colleague on the Congressional Black Caucus Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California at one point in the convention expressed concern about the fact that Senator Lieberman had opposed racial preferences.

NOVAK: Do you feel that this reprresents some unspoken concerns in the Black Caucus and the larger African-American community, or is it just Maxine Waters sounding off?

RANGEL: You and I know, Bob, that the last time you saw Maxine Waters she was hugging and kissing Joe Lieberman on the front page of a national newspaper, so if you want to get involved in this any further -- politically speaking, the bigger threat to the aspirations of blacks and black politicians should be a Joe Lieberman.

He's a mensch, he's a sweetheart, we're glad he's been selected, and not because he's Jewish, but because it opens up doors to other minorities to know that in this great republic, anyone can be selected and become vice, and indeed president of these United States.

It's only natural that when someone has a voting record that's different from another, that they would raise concerns. But if you're active, if you're a working legislator like Joe Lieberman, you have to believe there would be differences in voting records. It wouldn't surprise me if there are some votes that I've made that Maxine Waters would lose sleep with.

NOVAK: Sir, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim leader, has speculated, just speculated, whether Senator Lieberman's support for Israel presents some kind of a conflict for him as an American citizen, and Senator Lieberman has said he would like to talk to Minister Farrakhan. Do you think such a meeting would be a good idea?

RANGEL: I don't know. If that's what Senator Lieberman thought, then of course I would support his thinking, but I think that when the patriotism of any candidate for office is questioned, that he should deal with it, but I don't really think, as with Kennedy, or with Lieberman, that is of national import.

And it does bother me that, whenever we have a question concerning the Jewish community, that some kind of way the press can find some statement that has been made by Minister Farrakhan. What they really ought to do is find out the relationship that Jewish congresspeople and black congresspeople have had in the Congress over the years and working side by side, fighting bigotry and discriminiation wherever it is.

SHIELDS: OK. Congressman Rangel, at that Los Angeles convention, we acknowlege that Governor Bush has run an effective campaign as a compassionate conservative, and yet in Texas, where he's run on this slogan of "Leave no child behind," there are 1.4 million children without any healh insurance. It's 49th of the 50 states in coverage of children with health care, and yet at Los Angeles, the Democrats didn't lay a glove on him. I mean, nobody even roughed up so much as a hair on George Bush's head. Is this smart politics, to pass up an opprotunity to lay out the Texas record?

RANGEL: I don't like it one bit, all of this not saying anyhting unkind about your opponent, when all you're doing is going to the record. I would like to believe, as one would try to find out what was it that Vice President Gore has done, as House Representative, Senator, as an outstanding vice president, this should be the record.

I would want to see Dick Cheney's record. He's the only Republican that I've seen or heard of in a long time; they've banned all of the Republicans from the Republican convention -- that is, all of the Republicans from the House or from the Senate, and so, just as much as I'd like to see what the governor did in Tewxas, I'd rather find out whatever happened to the Republican leaders. Where is the Republcian Party? And what is the difference between Gore and Bush, as relates to those issues that concern most Americans?

SHIELDS: One consideration is if the Democrats do win the House. You're the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and George Bush has a good chance of being elected president. He's made the centerpiece of his campaign a major tax cut. Will you sit here today (ph) and say, as Charlie Rangel as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, that George W. Bush's big tax cut will not become law?

RANGEL: First of all, I cannot imagine, nor will I think of, having to be the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, with Governor Bush in charge of it.

If something, unfortunately, were to happen, I think that as the American people have rejected this conservative, broad, irresponsible tax cut by the Republicans of the House of Representatives, they would do the same thing for a Republican president.

If we can get those issues out right now, as to what do you do with the surplus after you pay down the national debt, then I am certain that people would not be looking for the Republican solution to our national problems.

NOVAK: Let me make another try on taxes, Mr. Rangel. The Senate Budget Committee has figures out that all of the Republican tax cuts can be passed, all the money can be set aside for Social Security.

They even set aside money in a lock-box for Medicare, and you still have $100 billion left over for additional tax cuts, if you wanted it. Isn't it, in fact, that you just don't want to have tax cuts for the people who pay most taxes?

RANGEL: Bob, would you agree that whether or not these Republicans in the Senate committee came up with these figures, that they're speculating that the Clinton-Gore good times and the surplus will continue to increase? Perhaps it's unusual for a Democrat to be conservative, but we're just not spending money and surpluses that we don't have.

And I don't care whether you're a Democrat, Republican, or liberal or conservative, you know that those figures you just mentioned are based on speculation. And it's not fair to do that to the American people. We've lived through those years of deficits, rough years of deficits included the Reagan-Bush years, and we don't want to go back to them.

SHIELDS: We have to take a break right now, and Bob Novak and I will back with the "Big Question" for Congressman Charlie Rangel.


SHIELDS: And now the "Big Question" for Congressman Charlie Rangel.

It turns out that the grand jury, Congressman Rangel, appointed by the independent counsel in secret to investigate the Lewinsky affair and President Clinton's role in it, that the leak of it came not from a Republican but from a federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter. Did you and the Democrats, kind of, leap just a little bit too quickly to blame this on Republicans? RANGEL: I don't think the leak is as important as the fact that the investigation continues, and I think the American people are fed up with the Lewinsky case, the impeachment, and all of the Republican shenanigans that refuse to talk about the future, where we go from here. So as far as I'm concerned, let the Republicans start impeachment, let Dan Burton start his hearings, but we're going to stick with the future of the United States.

NOVAK: But the Republicans didn't leak it, that's clear now, isn't it?

RANGEL: I don't care who leaked it. The real question is, what is the grand jury continuing to do in order to harass President Clinton. As I said before, if he was to drop dead, the Republicans would dig him up again.

NOVAK: On the question of President Clinton during the convention, Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska said that for the sake of Al Gore getting elected, President Clinton should get off-stage and be quiet for the rest of the campaign. Do you agree with that?

RANGEL: Heck no. We want President Clinton all around the country; we want him in New York state. It is true that Al Gore is no Bill Clinton when it comes to oratory but, heck, Harry Truman was no Franklin Roosevelt; Lyndon Johnson was no Ted Kennedy, but God knows we need -- the country loves Bill Clinton, and if he was running again, you and I know he would run for re-election and win.

NOVAK: So he should talk all he can?

RANGEL: No, he has something to say. If any Republican had a terrific economic successful record during the eight years that Bill Clinton had, you don't think they'd be talking about it? The bottom question is, are you better off today than you were eight years ago?

NOVAK: Charlie Rangel, thank you very much.

RANGEL: Thank you, Bob.

Mark Shields and I will be back with a comment after these messages.


SHIELDS: Bob, like an awful lot of leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, Charlie Rangel is confident the Democrats are going to win back the House. I mean, they're not counting, quite frankly, on Al Gore's coattails to get them there.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel made it very clear that he and Vice President Gore are opposed to any tax cuts for the people who pay the most taxes. They want to give taxes to people they say who need it, and that, whether they admit it or not, is a redistribution of income.

SHIELDS: Bob, your problem is that only the 1 percent of the population of income during Bill Clinton's eight years have seen their income by $201,000. We believe -- a lot of us do in this country -- that taxes ought to be based on the ability to pay.

NOVAK: You know, Mark, Charlie Rangel used to be an outsider on the Ways and Means Committee; he was considered a bomb-thrower. But, ever since he got to be the top Democrat in 1997, he's been working the members of the committee, telling the Republicans he'll be a good chairman, and I think a lot of these lobbyists who are giving him so much money to elect a Democratic House of Representatives believe they can do business with him.

I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields.

NOVAK: Coming up in one half-hour, on "RELIABLE SOURCES," is Al Gore now in the media spotlight alone, or is Bill Clinton still casting a long shadow?

And at 7:00 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG," a look back at the Democratic National Convention and what we can expect in the months ahead with Gore strategist Bob Shrum.

SHIELDS: Thanks for joining us.



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