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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Interview With Representative John Kasich

Aired September 2, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question a leading Republican in the struggle over the final weeks of the 106th Congress.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Congressman John Kasich of Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee.


NOVAK (voice-over): President Clinton returned from travels abroad to veto the repeal of the estate tax passed by the Republican- controlled Congress.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that this latest bill -- this estate tax bill is part of series of actions and commitments that, when you add it all up, would take us back to the bad old days of deficits, high interest rates and having no money to invest in our common future.

NOVAK: That sets the stage for the return of Congress this coming week from its summer break.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott sent Republicans a letter warning that President Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore plan a train wreck on Capitol Hill and possible shutdown of the government to discredit Republicans.

A senior Clinton adviser warned that the danger of such an outcome is up to the Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a matter of whether they want to send the president bills that they know he'll veto for -- so they can have election issues, or whether they want to work with us and get some things done for the American people this fall.

NOVAK: John Kasich will be in the midst of this conflict in his final weeks in Congress. He is not seeking re-election this year, after 18 years in the House, the last six as chairman of the Budget Committee.


NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, you originally proposed that the spending for the next fiscal year be at $570 billion, the Congress passed a budget resolution at $600 billion, and President Clinton is now requesting $630 billion. Are you inclined to give the president what he wants in order to avoid a train wreck, a government shutdown, and, perhaps, disaster for the Republican cause in this year's elections?

REP. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: Bob, the answer is no. And what I think we ought to do is to invite George Bush to join the congressional Republicans, and to make it clear that President Clinton and Al Gore want to spend more money, they're not interested in paying down debt, they're not interested in giving money back to the people, and we ought to make this a national campaign.

I think that if George Bush can say, "Look, the proofs in the pudding. Al Gore says he wants to pay down debt, he says he wants to be fiscally responsible, and all he's demanding is more spending, more bureaucracy, more red tape."

So I would call on Trent Lott and Denny Hastert to have a summit with George Bush and let's get it on. Let's make it clear that we're interested in paying down debt, restraining the growth of government, and returning some of this overpayment the taxpayers have made back to the taxpayers. And with George Bush involved, we'll be able to get our message out and we'll be able to stop Bill Clinton from getting what he wants, along with Al Gore, the big government types.

NOVAK: But surely, Mr. Kasich, you're aware that Governor Bush wants no part of getting involved in this Washington game. He's running out of Austin, Texas. He has no government -- federal government responsibilities. What you're saying goes against the Bush strategy, doesn't it?

KASICH: Well, look, all I can tell you is this: Al Gore has been giving George Bush a lecture of fiscal responsibility, saying he wants to pay down debt, that he's interested in targeted tax cuts. Well, fine, let's let George Bush call him on it.

If Al Gore is actually committed to paying down debt and being fiscally responsible, then he ought to join with the Republicans in opposing Bill Clinton and saying, "We shouldn't increase our spending from $600 billion to $630 billion." That's fiscally irresponsible, and, frankly, that's exactly what Gore and Clinton want to do. They're not interested in shrinking government, they're not interested in giving people some of their money back, they're only interested in expanding the size of government.

And I think this is a great opportunity for George Bush to align himself with the Republican Congress and say, that if he's president and we control the House and Senate, we will control spending, we will send power from Washington back home, we will reduce taxes and we will pay down debt and we'll save Social Security. And I think it'd be a great strategy.

NOVAK: But aren't you seriously concerned that this strategy that you propose, may, indeed, result in another government shutdown, such as occurred at the end of 1995 with similarly negative results for the Republican Party? KASICH: Well, no, I think we ought to make the fight, Bob. At the end of the day, Bill Clinton is going to demand more spending, and he's going to get more spending, he and his partner, Al Gore.

And if George Bush can put him side on the forces of less spending, paying down more debt, then I think we have a campaign inside of a campaign, and it can actually illustrate the differences between the two parties.

Look, I'm so tired of Bill Clinton trying to lecture the Congress on fiscal responsibility; the same with Al Gore. Those guys were never interested in a balanced budget. They were never interested in restraining spending. And at the end of every single year when we faced the issue of government shutdown, it's all because Gore and Clinton demand far more public spending, more bureaucracy, more power to lobbyists and special interests.

HUNT: Congressman Kasich, Congressman, let me just get this straight then. You would like to draw the line at $600 billion, not a billion more. Is that right? Is that your litmus test?

KASICH: No, Al, look, I've been around a long time. You draw lines. It never comes out that way, but I think...


KASICH: Look, I think we ought to have a debate about this, and I think we ought to make it clear to the people that they're interested in empowering bureaucrats, and we're interested in empowering people.

HUNT: Well, you say that, Congressman, and yet Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute, a very respected conservative, looked at your tenure -- the six years you've run the Budget Committee. He says under the Republican leadership in Congress, fiscal discipline has been worse -- this is his term -- than it was under Tip O'Neill.

KASICH: Well, I mean, the fact is, Al, as you know, you can't have it both ways. In '95 the government shut down because we didn't want to spend more. In '96 we really restrained spending, and in '97 we put the budget agreement together that's given us the largest surplus in my lifetime.

The fact is, though, with only a six-vote Republican majority -- and some of our Republicans, who frankly are not committed to less government, they join with Democrats and force us to spend more than what we want, which is the case for why we need to elect a Republican president who's a reformer, and more conservative members to both the House and the Senate.

NOVAK: From what you say, Mr. Chairman, I gather you disapprove strongly of the tactics being taken by your speaker, Speaker Dennis Hastert, who sat down on Thursday with the president to try to make a budget agreement, who obviously wants to give the president what he wants and not to cause a train wreck.

Do you think Speaker Hastert is going in the wrong direction?

KASICH: I think what Denny -- what the speaker proposed, is that there be some kind of agreement on minimum wage, and some tax cuts for businesses. I don't think that what the speaker was trying to do was figure out what the final level of spending ought to be. But I propose today that we, you know, we ought to involve George Bush in this.

NOVAK: All right, will you believe that this final settlement, this end game should or should not include legislation on HMO reform, the so-called Patients' Bill of Rights, and prescription drug payments for seniors?

KASICH: Well, Bob, I would prefer to see these negotiated separately.

On the Patients' Bill of Rights, as you know, the house already passed a patients' bill of rights which we believe in, but we don't think that the answer to this is more lawsuits. In fact, I don't know any American that thinks that in order to solve my problems I've got to hire another lawyer and sue. I mean, too many Americans do it today, but no one's satisfied with the outcome.

HUNT: I gather from that that you don't think an HMO bill should be enacted this year.

KASICH: No, I think we ought to pass an HMO because, frankly, I don't think HMO are in favor of competition.

HUNT: How about a minimum wage? Do you think the minimum wage will be increased before Congress gets out in October?

KASICH: It's possible, Al. I am not personally in favor of raising the minimum wage for this reason: If you talk to business people, people who put a payroll together -- I've never put a payroll together, that's why I'm leaving politics, so I can do it -- they say that if the minimum wage goes up they're going to have to raise all other wages in their businesses, and the people it's going to hurt the most are the poorest people, are the least skilled people that work for them.

But in the end, I think you're probably going to get an approval of some, because of the closeness of the Congress.

HUNT: Final quick question, if you could answer in just 10 seconds: Do you think a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens will or will not pass Congress before you go out?

KASICH: We will have a prescription drug bill that will pass the Congress.

HUNT: OK, Congressman, we're going to take a break now, but we'll be back in just a moment to talk to John Kasich about George W. Bush getting tough and personal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Congressman Kasich, the Bush campaign took a new direction just the other day with a new ad attacking the credibility of Al Gore. Let's take a look at it.


NARRATOR: Who's he going to be today, the Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple or the one who now promises campaign finance reform? Really.


NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, you're -- you've been a very candid person with me over the years and I want you to be candid right now. Do you think it was a good idea to go personal when the attacks on -- by the Democrats on Governor Bush have been on his positions rather than his personality?

KASICH: Well, Bob, I haven't seen the ad. But let me just say, my reaction to that is is that it is pretty absurd for Al Gore running around, trying to talk about campaign finance reform, when they've had so many campaign finance problems. That's -- that is -- that just doesn't even add up.

However, I would tell you that the issues of tax cuts for families and small businesses, and eliminating the marriage penalty, and Social Security reform and education reform, I think, are the issues that will determine this election. It's not going to be the issues of campaign finance reform. So I would encourage them to also have a campaign that focuses on issues as well.

NOVAK: But isn't the problem -- isn't the problem, perceived by some people at least, that Governor Bush and his campaign have been unable to satisfactorily explain his tax program, to give a good position on taxes, and so what he has done is gone to attacking the credibility of Vice President Gore? Do you think that's an explanation of what's going on right now?

KASICH: Well, I don't know, Bob. But as I told a Bush adviser yesterday, if the Republican Party is not capable of selling tax cuts, then we've got to take another look at the Republican Party. We can do it.

But I think the bottom line with the Bush campaign is they can't go out and try to win every single vote. I mean, there's things we stand for. We believe that people who have high tax burdens ought to get tax cuts. We don't believe that Washington ought to get bigger. We think parents ought to have more choice when it comes to the selections of schools so their kids get a good education. We believe in putting money into the economy in order to preserve and to expand our retirement accounts.

These are the things that we have to say. That's what this party's all about...

HUNT: Congressman? KASICH: ... and that's what we ought to be pushing.

HUNT: Congressman, if those are winning issues, then it would only follow that the candidate would be eager to debate those issues with his opponent, and yet there's a widespread perception in both parties that Governor Bush has been dodging debates. He has refused to accept the invitation of the presidential debate commission. Would you like to see him accept those invitations for those three debates and then have a number of other debates about these issues with Al Gore?

KASICH: Well, Al, first of all, it's baloney to say that George Bush doesn't want to figure out what -- that he doesn't want to debate. He's trying to get himself in a format, Al, where there can be fairness in terms of who's on the panel and the format that is presented to him.

Let me tell you something...

HUNT: Sir, the moderator of the last...

KASICH: ... George Bush...

HUNT: The moderators of those debates, as you know, was Jim Lehrer. You certainly would agree, having gone on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" many times, that he's fair, wouldn't you?

KASICH: Well, I think that Jim Lehrer's a good man, and I think at the end of the day we're going to have primetime debates. And let me make a prediction to you: People think that George Bush can't debate -- you wait and see. He's going to take it to Al Gore and he is not going to avoid these debates, and I'll tell you why: Because he knows what he believes in...


KASICH: ... and he's not going to try to reinvent himself.

NOVAK: Secretary Cheney, Mr. Kasich, has been out this week talking about the decline in defense -- alleged decline in defense under the Clinton administration. Now, ever since the end of the Cold War you have been in the forefront against defense waste, saying we should really shrink the military. How does this -- can you explain to me how this -- how the Bush-Cheney expansion of the military fits in with the Kasich shrinking of the military?

KASICH: Well, Bob, it's simple. For the 10 years that Reagan and Bush controlled the military we went to about 41 places around the world with our military. We got involved in places like -- against Saddam, in places like Grenada, where there was a clear purpose and a successful result.

Bill Clinton has used the military as policemen of the world. We've been in 116 places around the world. The commitments have been three times as much under Bill Clinton than -- and so the fact is you're going to have to boost some spending, but you're going to have to also try to limit the number of commitments the United States has.

NOVAK: But the emphasis that's coming over is that we're not spending enough on the military. Do you really think that's a good issue in America in 2000?

KASICH: Well, right now, Bob, unfortunately, the troops are stretched. But I think, rather than focusing on the total number of dollars, we ought to be focusing on the fact that we have no foreign policy, no focus, and we're using our military to be policemen of the world, and the American people don't want that. And I think that's a potent issue.

HUNT: Congressman Kasich, you are an expert on the budget. Both candidates, Al Gore and George Bush, agree that the Social Security surplus over the next 10 years should be taken off the table. No disagreement on that. Do you think that George W. Bush also should say the Medicare surplus should be taken off the table and not used for tax cuts or other spending programs?

KASICH: Yes, I think what you're going to find is that there is going to be a setting aside, Al, of the $30 billion a year that's related to Medicare, and that's consistent with Governor Bush's tax plan. As you know, there's $2.3 trillion surplus in the general fund, and Governor Bush wants to use approximately $1 trillion of it, which leaves another $1 trillion of it to not only address Medicare, but also to pay down debt.

What Al Gore wants to do is he wants to spend about $1 trillion and his targeted tax cuts...

HUNT: Final...

KASICH: ... require you to be a trained seal with an accountant.

HUNT: Final, very quick question on taxes. Last week Governor Bush cited $22,000-a-year waitresses and $32,000-a-year librarians. The biggest benefits, however, go to the very wealthy. You said they pay the most taxes, they're the most productive. Should he bring out, you know, a CEO or someone and say, "This person is productive, they're going to get a huge tax cut and here's why it's justified"?

KASICH: Well, Al, the top 20 percent pay 80 percent of the taxes; they ought to get a tax cut. Bush is going to take six million additional Americans off the rolls and provide a lower tax rate for those who have low income. I think the plan is fair.

Now, if you want to have class warfare, if you want to tear down successful people, go ahead, it'll hurt America.

HUNT: All right. John Kasich, we're going to take a break. But we'll be back in a minute with the Big Question for John Kasich.


HUNT: The Big question for John Kasich: Congressman, as you know, the other day, President Clinton decided to defer any action on a missile defense system, to leave it to his successor. Was that a prudent decision?

KASICH: It was a good decision. I think we're going to have to deploy a limited defense that will work to be used against rogue nations or regular nations that have leaders who are irresponsible and may launch a few missiles at us, Al. We cannot stay unprotected. But I think Bill Clinton did the responsible thing.

NOVAK: Do you think the successor should then -- whether it's Al Gore or George W. Bush -- should go for a national missile defense then?

KASICH: Bob, I think we're going to need one. I don't think it's going to be something that's going to be able to handle a huge onslaught of missiles, but the problems we face with North Korea or Iran or Iraq, which would be a handful of missiles, I think that the national defense missile system should work.

But I think we also ought to be careful about not exporting our technology willy-nilly around the world so that we give people the power to be able to develop these systems.

NOVAK: And just in the seconds we have left, Mr. Chairman, do you have some regrets that over the last six years you have talked so much about the balanced budget, and now that you have a surplus and not enough about shrinking governments, so that now that we have a surplus there's not much of a constituency for reducing government?

KASICH: Well, Bob, you know, as you know, I think we should transfer power and run America from the bottom up. And I think this fight is never-ending. And I have to tell you, even though I'm leaving Congress, I will continue to be involved in this debate, and you haven't heard the last of me yet.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Chairman John Kasich.

Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.


HUNT: Bob, it's refreshing to interview John Kasich. And I doubt, however, he can sell it with Austin, on this suggestion that George W. Bush get involved with the budget negotiations the last month of Congress. I don't think the presidential candidate wants any part of that briar patch.

NOVAK: No, that's right.

I think John Kasich told us, Al, things that -- in public that other people tell -- other Republicans are saying in private: didn't like the commercial very much, thinks that Governor Bush should be talking about tax cuts more. And instead of talking about more money for defense, I think he said that the governor should be talking about less commitments for the military around the world.

HUNT: He makes a better case than the ticket has so far on the economic issue and the tax-cut issue, Bob. Although, it seems to me, he didn't want to bring out that CEO who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tax cuts.

NOVAK: Well, now that he's leaving Congress, he might be a rich CEO, who deserves the tax cut.

I think we're going to miss John Kasich around here. I think he would have made a very good presidential candidate. But it's very hard to run for president from the House, and even harder when you don't have money. But he's a very effective campaigner, I believe.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

NOVAK: Coming up in one half-hour, on "RELIABLE SOURCES," two political strategists turn the tables on the media's coverage of the presidential campaign. And at 7 p.m., on "CAPITAL GANG," the latest on the Gore/Bush battle for the White House with the inestimable James Carville.

HUNT: And be sure to tune in next week, when our guest on EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS will be White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

Thanks for joining us.



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