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Is the Economy the Biggest Issue in Election 2000?

Aired October 19, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, is it still the economy, stupid? Is this the winning issue of 2000, and which candidate is the smart choice for continued prosperity?


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you believe we should go back to the policies of the past, back to big tax cuts for those at the top, which would open new deficits in a New York minute, then maybe you ought to vote for my opponent.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My opponent also thinks our prosperity should have a purpose. Just send him the money in Washington and he'll decide what's best.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a Gore supporter and member of the Budget Committee; and committee chairman, Congressman John Kasich from Ohio, a Bush supporter.

NOVAK: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

On Wall Street today, stocks rebounded after scary blue Wednesday. Yesterday's selling frenzy turned into a buying frenzy, and the two presidential candidates -- coincidentally are not -- were out on the campaign trail talking about the economy.

Al Gore was in New York City, giving an economic speech, and anybody who wasn't frightened by Wednesday's stock market plunge had to be frightened to death by the vice president, who warned that voters 19 days from now will choose between maintaining prosperity or ruining the economy by helping the rich. Not at all, George W. Bush told high-tech workers near Detroit. The government doesn't have anything to do with prosperity. It doesn't invent anything, it doesn't produce anything.

In our CROSSFIRE tonight, who is right? And more important, which version of reality will American voters buy on November 7?

David Nyhan of "The Boston Globe" is sitting in for Bill Press tonight -- David. DAVID NYHAN, GUEST HOST: Congressman, under Clinton-Gore, you're getting a new millionaire family household in this country every 31 seconds...


NYHAN: ... a million families a year, that's doubled in the last five years, cut the jobless rate in half, unemployment way down -- oops, there's another new millionaire just in the time it took me to tell you these facts. What's not to like?

KASICH: Well, I mean, we are all happy with where we are today and I think the greatest threat to continued strong economy is big government, the inability to continue to have some tax cuts that will continue to spur economic growth. You've seen the economy. We've got long-term rates now inching up close to 10 percent, and I think it's very important that we do have tax cuts that are broad based, that will continue to provide incentives for economic growth.

Contrast that with Al Gore, who -- the last time I ended up his spending proposals -- he's basically into the Social Security trust fund. If you want big government, you will shut down economic growth. If you want to keep government small, and if you want to cut taxes, let people have more power with economic-growth proposals, you'll continue this. And -- so I think it is a pretty clear choice and I've seen -- I think we have seen it in the debates.

NYHAN: Here's what Governor Bush said when Jim Lehrer asked him if it's true, what Gore said, that most of the Bush tax cuts go to the wealthiest 1 percent.


BUSH: Of course it does. If you pay taxes, you're going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes will get tax relief.


NYHAN: And here's what Gore said.


GORE: If you want somebody who believes that we were better off eight years ago than we are now and that we ought to go back to the kind of policies that we had back then, emphasizing tax cuts mainly for the wealthy, here is your man. If you want somebody who will fight for you and who will fight to have middle-class tax cuts...


NYHAN: Congressman, when you ran...

KASICH: That was an appropriate end to that, as far as I'm concerned.


NYHAN: Novak pulled the plug on me again.

Congressman, when you ran for president against Bush, you ran as a maverick, against the elites, as a populist Republican, and you got a lot of credit for the stand you took. You ran against corporate welfare...

KASICH: I'm going to look for the columns you wrote.

NYHAN: ... and lavish tax breaks.


NYHAN: But you and the other Republican leaders in the House refuse to bring the Bush tax-cut proposal to a vote, because you were afraid that you would embarrass him if you did it. Where is that John Kasich when we need him?

KASICH: Well, first of all, I don't know whether you know this, I was the author of the across-the-board tax cut in the House.

NYHAN: The 10 percent.

KASICH: And I was the strongest advocate...


KASICH: ... of preserving George Bush's tax cuts.

Let me say a little bit about this politics of class warfare. I don't think it works in America and, frankly, it's wrong. People who earn $100,000 or more in income are paying 2/3 of the income taxes in America. They ought to get a tax cut. The top...

NYHAN: You're getting into Novak's neighborhood now.

KASICH: No, let me tell you, the top 1 percent in America is paying 35 percent of the freight. And guess what? After the Bush tax cut, they will pay even more. The fact is, is that what Al Gore has is a tax cut plan that you have to do what Washington says to get it. George Bush says broad based, if you pay taxes, you get it. He also takes 6 million people off the rolls.

NOVAK: All right...


NYHAN: Mr. 1 percent himself.

NOVAK: All right, Ed Markey, Congressman Ed Markey, your candidate, Al Gore was in New York today wearing a sincere suit, and let's -- and being sincere. And let's see what he said about the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORE: I'll be straightforward about this. I am proposing a much smaller overall tax cut than Governor Bush, $500 billion instead of $1.6 trillion.


NOVAK: Now, last night -- not two years ago -- last night in Flint, Michigan, there was a different guy. Let's listen to him.


GORE: He says in his plan, under his own numbers, he is going to spend more money for a tax cut to the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new money that he proposes for education, health care, and national defense combined.


NOVAK: Now, tell me which was the real Al Gore, and tell me if it's that guy yelling in Flint, Michigan? Do you think Americans like that kind of thing? They like that shouting, I will fight for you? Do you think they like that?

REP. ED MARKEY (D-MA), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, if they don't, then they shouldn't be watching this show, because that's the premise of this show. I mean...


MARKEY: So, you know, the people watching this show...


MARKEY: I can't talk about others, but the reality is, is that his simple point is that if you want to give a real prescription drug benefit to senior citizens, if you want to have enough money to rebuild schools, to put 100,000 more teachers in the classroom, then you've got to leave a little bit of money over. And what he does is give 42 percent of the tax break to the upper 1 percentile. In other words, the people who have done the best in the last 10 years take the bulk of the tax break rather than those who are left over, the senior -- grandma and kids are left with the short end of the stick, and I think that's the essence of the debate.

NOVAK: You know, you -- there was a great Democrat from Massachusetts -- I don't know if you remember them all -- named Paul Tsongas, who ran a spectacular campaign for president in 1992. He said you can't keep strangling the goose that lays the golden egg. You can't keep attacking the business interests that produce the jobs for the working people of the country. Why haven't you learned that lesson, Eddie?

MARKEY: Well, I -- you know, I have learned the lesson. It's not really a debate over whether or not, you know, this surplus is going to get spent either through tax cuts or through programs. Both parties -- although, Gore spends a little bit less. NOVAK: You -- wait a minute. You consider giving people tax cuts spending the surplus? That's spending the surplus?

MARKEY: Well, look, you know, Bush has been saying, my slogan is leave no child behind, but if you look at his tax cut his program is, leave no tycoon behind, because he takes so much of the money he doesn't leave enough over for Social Security, for prescription drugs, or for education.

NOVAK: Well, you're besmirching Mr. -- Senator Tsongas' memory, because he didn't want you to hit the tycoons.

But let's be serious about the people who make this country go around, the business executives, you know, the succeeders, the guys who have -- who produce...

NYHAN: The 1 percent, Bob.

NOVAK: No, it's more than 1 percent.

KASICH: David, the...

NOVAK: Just let me say there was a "Fortune" magazine poll of how the CEOs will vote -- CEOs, 3 percent for Gore, 70 percent for Bush, 20 percent for others -- those other candidates were still in there. They don't want Gore there. That's why the stock market tanks when they think Gore is going to win. Didn't they?

MARKEY: I mean, don't forget about all of those people. They are born Republican and then baptized capitalists seven days later, OK. So you're talking about a generic category...


MARKEY: These guys read "Fortune" magazine...

NOVAK: They...

MARKEY: These guys read "Fortune" magazine under the covers at night with a flashlight, OK. So obviously they're not going to like Al Gore, because he believes in the democratization of access to opportunity in the country, and that means building schools, putting more teachers in the classroom, and making sure you have after-school programs so that every child in the society can benefit, not just the wealthy.


NYHAN: I want to give John a chance to get in here, because, John, you had a reputation as a guy who represented average folks. Your father was a mailman.


NYHAN: In your presidential campaign, you said, my dad was a mailman who couldn't get me on a little league team, never -- let alone in the White House, and I believed you when you said that. But now you're running with a guy who is the candidate of big oil, big pharmaceuticals, big tobacco, corporate lobbyists, and your theory -- you were kind of the McCain of the economic conservatives when you said we should govern this country from the bottom up. What's happened to that in the Bush campaign?

KASICH: Well, David, first of all, I oppose corporate welfare because I'm against the subsidies. And guess what? So is Governor Bush, and he said that he wants to eliminate subsidies to business that are improper. He's in agreement with me on that.

I believe that as a mailman's son -- I'll tell you what my parents told me: Work hard, you get ahead. They never told me work hard, get ahead, and then get in the witness protection program because you've got to be ashamed of your success. They said, when you're successful, you get a reward.

Now, let me go back and tell you a couple of things. First of all, Governor Bush has a tax cut for people over a $100,000. They pay two-thirds of the bill. At the end of the day, they'll be paying more than two-thirds of the bill.

Secondly, Governor Bush preserves money for Social Security and Medicare, and I'm going to tell you George Bush has had the guts to tell young people that you've got to have a little bit of control of your payroll taxes in this economy if we are going to have this program live. And he's fought to preserve Medicare by giving people more choice.

His tax cut has nothing to do with Social Security and Medicare. I'll tell you what it has to do with: taking a big chunk of the surplus off the table before the Washington bureaucrats and the elites spend it, build a bigger government and wreck our economy. That's what it's all about.

NYHAN: Here's what Mr. Gore says about Social Security, congressman.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I asked him last night, how can you promise the same trillion dollars to two different groups of people, which promise are you going keep, he said, oh, no, I'm not going to answer any questions, that's a violation of the rules.

One and one equals two. I know that much. But if you promised the same 1 trillion to two different groups of people, you know what you call that?

AUDIENCE: Fuzzy math.

GORE: Fuzzy math.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NYHAN: Congressman, if Governor Bush was applying for a job, an entry-level job on your Budget Committee, where your staff is confident and professional, you probably wouldn't hire a guy like Bush, who can't handle the numbers. Is that true? Would you hire -- would you give him a job?

KASICH: Well...

NYHAN: If you were working for H&R Block...


KASICH: You've got to -- you've got to come up with tougher questions than that on this show. But David, look, let me tell you, you write for "The Globe" and you've got to be intellectually honest. I have respect for your newspaper. If we don't give people a little bit of control and allow them to invest some of their money in the American economy, the system will melt down.

What George Bush does to fund these private accounts, just like congressmen have and federal employees, you know what he does to fund it? He takes money from the Social Security surplus to fund it. He's not double counting. That's another one of Al's fables, and he is getting famous for his fables. And it's not fuzzy math. It's frankly made-up stuff.

So what you can do is not only pay down a big chunk of the national debt under George Bush's plan but create private accounts that will save Social Security.

NYHAN: So you'd (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bush to make out your tax return. You really would.

KASICH: I'm not sure anybody in America knows how to make out a tax return these days.

NOVAK: We've got to take break. And when we come back, we'll be -- we'll have George W. Bush's answer to Al Gore's fuzzy math.


NYHAN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm David Nyhan of "The Boston Globe," in for Bill Press. Is it still the economy? That's the topic tonight for our guests, Republican Congressman John Kasich of Ohio, whose neckties used to be louder but his voice is never, and Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of the great and often-misunderstood state of Massachusetts.


Ed, get ready for a high hard one from battling Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Congressman Markey, just a soft one. You know, all this criticism of George W. Bush on what his explanation of SOCIAL SECURITY. I want you to listen, listen carefully to what he says about the outrageous claims by the vice president. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The $1 trillion it takes to fund a personal savings account comes out of the $2.4 trillion surplus. It stays in Social Security. It doesn't leave Social Security. It becomes a part of the younger workers' retirement plans. The 2.4 trillion exists after older workers have been taken care of.


NOVAK: I think that's all very clear. I understand that. It means that the money, that the 2 percentage points, which the young people really like, Ed, believe me.

MARKEY: I understand that.

NOVAK: And they -- and that -- and the older people are taken care of by the surplus. There's no double use of the trillion. Don't you understand that?

MARKEY: Except that the market's down. Well, yes, here's the problem: 2.4 trillion is enough to take care of this generation of seniors and the baby boomers, who are heading through. If you want to add in more money for these young people, give them a 2 percent account to be matched off against the money that the federal government will give them, you've got to give them some extra money. So what George Bush's plan is it's Social Security minus. That is he puts a straw into the existing money, which is there for the existing seniors, and he drains it.

What Al Gore does is he has Social Security plus.

NOVAK: That...

MARKEY: He keeps the exact amount of money that's there and gives...

NOVAK: He does nothing with Social Security.

MARKEY: ... extra tax benefit to young people so that they can begin to save.

KASICH: Wait, wait, wait. What we have to understand is the 2.4 trillion is excess. We're taking care of all the seniors.

NOVAK: They're all taken care of.

KASICH: This is all taken care of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is not true. That is not true...

KASICH: Let me tell you, what the surplus in Social Security is the money that comes in that's left over after we've paid everybody. And that surplus in Social Security is being used now to pay down the debt, and what George Bush wants to do is take a piece of it and create private accounts. That's the fact.

NOVAK: One more thing, congressman. Al Gore -- Al Gore said something that wasn't true.

MARKEY: Which was?

NOVAK: He said that there is in the Social Security fund, the Social Security fund is raising, is accumulating money at a rate of more than 2 percent. You know, don't you, there's no Social Security fund, and there's nothing more than the 2 percent rate? You know that, don't you?

MARKEY: Let me tell you something. John just said there was a Social Security fund.

NOVAK: There's no...

MARKEY: So you're going to debate now between Al Gore and John Kasich.


Well, I'm afraid here that what's happened here...


NOVAK: ... there is no fund.

MARKEY: Listen, the reason that he does not have enough money to take care of seniors and young people at the same time is he's given all the money over to the 1 percent.

NOVAK: You know what -- you hate the idea of Americans being stockholders.

MARKEY: Al Gore has a stock...


Al Gore -- Al Gore has a stock investment plan.


He gives it to young people.

NYHAN: ... John Kasich, I want to give him a chance.

KASICH: Let me tell you...

NYHAN: You threw yourself on the concertina wire and you lost...

KASICH: On Social Security.

NYHAN: ... you really took some hard hits...

KASICH: That's right. NYHAN: ... when the government was shut down, when you lost out to Clinton and the government shut down and the budget battles. But you paid your dues on that.

What ever happened to that sound conservative nostrum there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Your guy is giving away huge tax cuts here.

KASICH: David...

NYHAN: This is not only a free lunch. It's free dinner and snacks and breakfast and Novak's snack packs.

KASICH: There is a point at which that we've got to be serious about issues. And let me tell you about Social Security. The Social Security taxes come in today and they go to pay our seniors. What we have in the Social Security surplus is the extra money we're collecting that's not going to pay benefits, and we're using that today to pay down debt.

There's 2.3 trillion in the surplus there for Social Security. It's going to be used for nothing but fixing Social Security. The other 2.3 trillion that comes from the general fund, that's the money that's going to be used to give out the tax cut.

So keep this in mind. It's 4.6 trillion: 2.3 in the general budget, 2.3 in Social Security. If we use the 2.3 in Social Security only for Social Security, only to create private accounts...

NYHAN: Ed, don't you wish that John could explain this to Bush? Wouldn't it be great if he could tell Bush?

MARKEY: Can I say this? The only person that he can convince this is the way it works is George Bush, because on the other -- on the other -- every other...


Every other day of the week they're saying the Social Security system is still going to go broke...


... that it's going to go insolvent. Yet at the same time, he's got a straw that's big enough to let George Bush dip into it.

KASICH: Well, you know what...

MARKEY: The problem is that Social Security will not be solvent unless we put into place the kind of solid, sane...

KASICH: Wait a minute. Wait a minute, I've got to tell you this.

(CROSSTALK) MARKEY: ... George Bush...

KASICH: The reason why Social Security is in trouble, it's not in trouble for our seniors. It's in trouble for the baby boomers...

MARKEY: Exactly.

KASICH: ... and their children, and that's why it needs to be reformed, revamped, and that's why people need to be able to put some of their money in the economy like federal workers and politicians do to save...


NOVAK: That has to be the last word. Congressman Kasich, thank you. John Kasich, thank you. Congressman Ed Markey, thank you.

Mr. Nyhan, the king of Boston, and I will be back with closing comments after these messages.


NOVAK: What's the relationship between pornography and politics? Find out tomorrow as "Hustler" publisher Larry Flynt and anti- pornography advocate Donna Rice Hughes join us in the crossfire -- David.

NYHAN: Bob, I rest my case with the words of a remarkable journalist of long experience who judged the debate. "The undiluted Gore is formidable. When not self-restrained, the vice president can dispose of Governor Bush seven nights outs of seven." This media savant said: "Gore's recital of vote-friendly new programs matched Bill Clinton's campaign virtuosity and meant a steady onslaught against Bush, who was kept off-balance by the vice president's maneuvers."

"Bush," said this insightful critic, "had difficulty coping with the inside-the-Beltway land mines laid by the vice president, and the Texan did not know enough about Washington to comment intelligently about the bipartisan patients' bill of rights that has GOP backers."

Concluded our man, "So George W. Bush is no great debater."

Bob, I couldn't say it better than you did yourself in today's "Washington Post" column. Congratulations, buddy.

NOVAK: You acted like Joe McCarthy, because you didn't take all the bad stuff. You edited out all the bad stuff. I said Gore being Gore was a benefit, a benefit for Bush, because he's not likable, he's not believable, and the American people don't like to elect that kind of president.

NYHAN: Bob is right. I did take out the bad stuff.

This is Dave Nyhan from the left saying good night for CROSSFIRE and my good pal. NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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