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Bush's Public Appeal for His Tax Cut, the Efficacy of Dan Burton's Hearings and the Florida RecountAired March 3, 2001 - 7:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full CAPITAL GANG: Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, Margaret Carlson, and in Miami, Robert Novak reporting from South Florida.
President Bush went on the road to sell his tax cut to the American people.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy is beginning to sputter, and one of the things we can do to make sure the economy gets a second wind is to let people have money in their pockets so they can spend it.
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SHIELDS: But in Congress, Republicans did not wait for public support to form or build. The House Ways and Means Committee approved across-the-board income tax rate reductions on a straight party-line vote.
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REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: This is the most irresponsible legislative act THAT I have ever seen.
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REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: Some have said over the last week, that, well we should wait. And every time I hear the word wait around this place, it usually, always means never.
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SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, was it a mistake to rush this tax cut through the committee without any public hearings, deliberation, consideration, Kate?
KATE O'BEIRNE:, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Mark, the House Ways and Means Committee could have held hearings around the clock for the next month and House Democrats oppose cutting taxes. They don't want to cut taxes when there's a deficit. The don't want to cut taxes when there's a surplus. They don't want to cut taxes.
And as a top Republican told me last week, I know we're wining when the Democrats are complaining about the process because those arguments the public never quite understand and of course, there's evidence that the Republican do have public opinion on their side when the public is given the right choice.
How much of the surplus do you think ought to be dedicated to tax cuts: They come up with roughly 25 percent, which is what the Bush plan is. Just as some Republicans, though, overread, were over confident given their win in 1994 when they took the House, I think some now are too timid and have been a little slow to appreciate the enormous value of having the White House megaphone in the hands of a popular president.
This tax cut was designed in 1999 when the surplus was a trillion dollars lower. The surplus is bigger. The economy is weaker. I think the one mistake they're make is it should be bigger and it ought to go into effect sooner.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, down there in Florida, tell us, if you would, why then in view of this compelling case that Kate O'Beirne makes that the poll reports that only 12 percent of Americans think it's going to help the middle class; 4 percent think the beneficiaries are going to be the working pew while 79 percent think it's going to go to the wealthy?
ROBERT NOVAK, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It depends on what poll you read, Mark, and you know that. Some of the polls say 33 percent of the people oppose it and 67 percent support it. That doesn't mean anything.
The thing that really amuses me is Dick Gephardt crying about outrage this legislative travesty when he was part of the railroad that the Democrats ran, slamming everything down the Republicans throat for 40 years.
As far as this being too modest a cut, it is a pretty skimpy tax cut, as the editor in "The Wall Street Journal" said Friday. But the rules that the Congress has imposed on itself on how much you can cut and how much of the surplus you can use are really monumental, very difficult. I thought that probably Speaker Hastert made a very smart move in rushing it through without putting on some kind of a show trial that I'm sure Mark would enjoy.
SHIELDS: Al, I have so ask you Al Hunt, what they've succeeded in doing, quite frankly, is uniting the Democrats. There are going to be probably fewer than a dozen, fewer than 10 Democrats will vote for a tax cut. And I mean, what happened to bipartisanship here?
AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I guess, partisanship is alive and well. I don't know what's happened to bipartisanship, Mark. I think Kate was right that if you'd 24 hour a day hearings the Democrats wouldn't change their position but it's not because they're opposed to tax cuts. They're opposed to this particular tax cut. They're opposed to a tax cut that tilts heavily to upper income, which this does. George W. Bush told us on that clip that we saw a few moments ago that we need it in order to put money in people's pockets because the economy is sagging.
If you're going to do that, you don't put money in the pockets of people in Palm Beach, where Bob has been. You put money in the pockets of working class Americans. This tax cut doesn't do a very good job on that.
A long way to go, Mark. They'll pass it in the House, as we say, with 10 or 12 Democrats at the most. But a couple of months before the Senate does anything.
SHIELDS: OK, and Margaret Carlson, there was a little bit of a show trial to this because what they voted on in the Ways and Means Committee will never be voted on in the Senate. There will never be a bare bones income tax rate reduction. It was a little bit of a let's give the Republicans in the Senate a vertebrae transplant. Let's show them what we can do in the House.
MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It's like impeachment. Let's send it over there...
CARLSON: They'll fix it over there. The hearings are a nice Democratic touch. It wouldn't have been a bad idea to have some hearings even though it might not have changed anything, but a discussion of it.
But what Republican don't want is a discussion in which you see where the tax cut goes. This is not a good idea for Republicans. The less, the better. You know, we now have mad surplus disease like we've got to do something about this out of control deficit. Let's get it...
CARLSON: Surplus, let's get it out of here. Right, I'm still thinking out of control deficit. And you know, the idea that Alan Greenspan is not for using tax cuts as a stimulus. He's never said that. Bush keeps saying that. Either you know we've got to get rid of the surplus or we have to prime the pump. You know, which is it? Is this Clinton recession that we have to now fix with these tax cuts, Bush cannot even decide what the real purpose of the tax cut is.
O'BEIRNE: Well, he keeps pointing out there are different purposes of the tax cut. He was making the case and still makes the case and Alan Greenspan agrees, better you return the money to the taxpayer than spend it, which of course what would happen in Washington and he also argues that he's leaving plenty of room for paying down the debt, which Alan Greenspan agrees with him. There's a limit to how much we can pay down and it's about time the consumers get more of their own money to pay down their own consumer debt. SHIELDS: Bob, just a point that Kate makes, I want to get back to you. First of all, who spends it? We're in Washington, D.C. which has a Republican House, Republican Senate and Republican White House. There won't be a dime spent by the federal government unless all three branches agree.
That's one thing, but the second thing, Bob, is you talk about polls favoring this tax cut. Invariably, it finishes way behind others. Twenty-two percent of people said it was important, Bob, in the "Washington Post"/ABC poll, and I guess what really strikes me is that's not military pay raises. If you look internally, the paper people who favor it are the people who are going to get it. Most Americans don't think they're going to get any.
NOVAK: That's a lot of bouchee (ph), Mark. In the first place, the idea that the Republicans are in control of the Senate is ridiculous. They're in control of the Senate in name only. It isn't really -- there's no -- there's no control there. Now, what you -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, Mark.
SHIELDS: OK, Bob that's our final word. The gang of five will be back to look at George W. Bush's Capitol Hill debut?
SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
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BUSH: Together, we are changing the tone in the Nation's capitol.
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BUSH: Our new governing vision says government should be active but limited, engaged but not overbearing.
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BUSH: Earlier today I asked John Ashcroft, the attorney general, to develop specific recommendations to end racial profiling. It's wrong, and we will end it in America.
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BUSH: Unrestrained government spending is a dangerous road to deficits. So we must take a different path.
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SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: When he insists on proposals that threaten the prosperity of all Americans or that harm Social Security or Medicare, we will fight and fight hard to put the interests of working families first.
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SHIELDS: Margaret, Margaret Carlson, how do you grade, you a notoriously tough grader, how do you grade President Bush's debut?
CARLSON: Let's do it on a pass-fail system.
CARLSON: Let's give him a really good pass, yes. Unlike the inaugural, where things were taking wing and flight and there was some poetic language, this was, you know, down to earth, a little -- and in fact, it was a Clintonesque speech for about two-thirds of it. And the overnight polls give him Clintonesque gradings for it.
And there reverse order in the speech to what he said because he didn't get to tax cuts, which is the biggest part of his plan, until the last third and up until then, if you closed your eyes, it could have been Bill Clinton: prescription drugs, education, medical research; it was all there.
But it was delivered quite well and the people in the hall that he shook hands with were some of those people, those Democrats he hopes to pull over and the magic moment was the tribute to Joe Moakly.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, even you, you kind of hard-hearted guy, be the first artificial heart transplant donor, you'd have to admit that Joe Moakly was kind of really sentimental and touching.
NOVAK: Indeed it was. I agree with Margaret, that there was a Clintonian speech. he didn't use the word conservative. He didn't use the word capitalist, and it was all a preparation for the two things he really cares about, which are indeed, very important to the conservative cause and that's tax cuts and the beginning of privitization of Social Security.
So it was clever in that sense. I would hope that in the future he can give a speech which spends the entire speech on tax cuts as Ronald Reagan four times made major addresses on his tax cut in 1981 because it needs for explanation to cut through some of the propaganda about a tax cut for the rich which is nonsense that we've heard tonight.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, your take?
HUNT: Listen, the more this is exposed, the more people realize, of course, that a disproportionate share of this tax cut goes to the rich. So, I think George W. Bush is very smart in not talking about it a lot. This won't leaven taste any better, Mark. But I thought the president did pretty darn well. And I also think that Daschle and Gephardt by comparison looked like stiffs, but that's always the case. The opposition party never looks good. The only time I can remember that being different was Dan Rostenkowski about 15 years ago when he answered Ronald Reagan once.
But I thought Bush did everything that he needed to do. I was somewhat struck with the fact of how disinterested the public seemed to be, very small viewership. I think the people who did watch it were favorably impressed.
O'BEIRNE: Mark, that might be because with President Bush we're learning there aren't any surprises. It's not going to be one of these high drama White Houses. He essentially laid out the agenda. He's talked about for two years on the campaign trail. It's very predictable and liable to that extent and I think the speech was very well-structured in making its case for tax cuts because he built to it.
We're going to double Medicare spending in 10 years. We're going to pay down $2 trillion in debt. We're going to put every nickel of Social Security aside. We're going to raise spending by 4 percent, greater than inflation. After he's done all of these things, he has a trillion dollar contingency fund left over and can still cut taxes. So I think he did a very -- it was structured to defend the tax cut.
And I know that the response is always hard for the other party to do, but I can't think of any Republican respondent in past years who looked quite as sort of shrill and unpleasant as Gephardt and Daschle did. I'm not sure the two of them together worked. I can understand why they chose to do that and as soon as Dick Gephardt said about George Bush's, if it sounds too good to be true it is. Well, the admission is that sounded pretty darn good.
SHIELDS: Well, Bob Novak, I know you're deeply sensitive about this business of about whether it tilts one way or the other, but figures just out yesterday from the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities shows, Bob, that over the next 10 years, more money will go back to the top 1 percent, Bob, than will be spent in all the other initiatives that president is talking about. That's Kate's health care, education, defense, national security, Bob, domestic security, Parks and everything.
NOVAK: That's nonsense, because you're putting in there the money from the estate tax and it is ridiculous to consider that a tax cut for the rich because they are dead. They are dead when that tax...
O'BEIRNE: They're not rich anymore...
NOVAK: I know I believe in the life after, but I don't believe there's cash up there. (LAUGHTER)
NOVAK: And it really is ridiculous. Now, the point of this is that the tax, and we had Karl Rove on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" earlier today, and he made it very clear that the proportion of taxation for the top 1 percent is increased under this and I am very, very saddened that good reporters, in fact reporters, that once covered the Ways and Means Committee are swallowing this Democratic propaganda that this is a tax cut for the rich. It's a very fair tax cut.
HUNT: It's nice to know that Bob doesn't swallow anyone's propaganda here and says the estate tax, it ought to be abolished, but let's not count it. Let's pretend like it doesn't exist.
NOVAK: It isn't...
HUNT: It's the most wonderful bookkeeping device I've ever heard. If you don't like it, who it goes to, you say it doesn't exist.
CARLSON: We've learned here tonight that you can't take it with you. This is
CARLSON: Thank you, Bob for that.
SHIELDS: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
CARLSON: I was just going to say in one of the briefing on background, we're not allowed to name the people, was asked about can you explain why all these studies show that the bulk of the tax cut goes to the wealthy? They kept saying, well, you haven't seen the distribution tables yet. When we show you the distribution tables, then you'll know.
But in the meantime, they don't have an answer for that. So Bob...
NOVAK: Yes they did. That's not true, Margaret. They have an answer and the answer is that there is less tax goes to the top 1 percent than the payment they make into the tax system.
NOVAK: I mean, this is an extremely fair tax. I think that there's probably not enough of a tax cut for the upper brackets, in my opinion, and too much for the lower brackets.
SHIELDS: Bob, once again, you stand here a champion, a courageous defender of the very well-off, and I admire you for it. Next on CAPITAL GANG, taking the fifth on pardons.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. Democratic fund-raiser Beth Dozoretz appeared before Congressman Dan Burton's Oversight Committee investigating presidential pardons and offered the same answer to all questions.
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BETH DOZORETZ, FRM. DNC FINANCE CHAIRWOMAN: Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer that question based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution.
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SHIELDS: Clinton aides did answer when asked what advice they gave the president about the Marc Rich pardon.
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JOHN PODESTA, FRM. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The staff informed the president that it was our view that the pardon should not be granted.
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SHIELDS: The committee's top Democrat accused President Clinton of bad judgment, but then drew a Republican parallel.
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REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Compare this pardon to that President Bush gave in 1989 to Armand Hammer, the former head of Occidental Petroleum, who pled guilty to making illegal campaign contributions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what did you and the nation actually learn from the Burton hearing?
NOVAK: Quite a bit. There was chaos in the White House those last weeks with everybody running around making bids for pardons. It was a absolutely tawdry performance by the president. His own staff told him not to do the Rich pardon, but beyond that, as Beth Nolan, the former White House counsel said, there was just such confusion going on that there was total chaos.
And this was, I think, a kind of a summation of the whole Clinton years. We also had the former finance director of the Democrat national Committee, a big fund raiser for Clinton, taking the Fifth Amendment. You know, communists and labor thugs used to take it because they didn't want to incriminate themselves. She didn't use that word, but that's what she meant. SHIELDS: Communists and labor thugs. You know, Bob you really are in Palm Beach, but I have to say this, Bill Clinton -- the process described by his own people was chaotic, was embarrassing, was -- showed no rationality. But one bright thing, he did waive executive privilege so that those people could testify. Was that was at least a small plus for Clinton.
CARLSON: Well, a small one. He needs a bigger one that to get back up to ground level. You know, Burton did not have to force the Fifth Amendment to be taken. I mean, most people who say they're going to take it don't have to come and be...
SHIELDS: On camera.
CARLSON: On camera to do that. What we did learn was this: At first, we thought these some these things were slipped through, maybe Clinton was fooled a little bit. Maybe, you know, Jack Quinn you know was under the radar.
No, Clinton knew. People were objecting. People all around. It was all explained. Things went to the Justice Department. He knew how the Justice Department felt about most of them. His own staff was saying this and that. Clinton wanted to do things for different reasons. You know, some were his brother's. You know, some were people who had contributed to him.
A whole bunch of reasons, but it's all Clinton, and there should be no look, actually people say let's have more hearings because we want to get rid of the presidential pardon. No, it was the presidential pardon in Clinton's hands. He doesn't have a sense in his own job between what was sacred and what wasn't.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, should we be grateful that Bill Clinton only had one brother and two brother-in-laws?
O'BEIRNE: Had he been from a larger family, he could have reduced prison overcrowding, I supposed, had they been both from larger families. I do think we learned about another suspicious link with the Clinton library, which is kind of operated in a very Clintonian way. He's got to check out cash whenever he feels like it.
CARLSON: There's a "Penthouse" case.
O'BEIRNE: Because Cheryl Mills, former White House counsel, left the White House in 1999. We now found out through the hearings was at the white house the night these pardons were being most actively discussed at the last minute and there when they were being granted. Apparently, the pardon attorney from the Justice Department called over to discuss the Marc Rich pardon and wound up discussed it with his former White House counsel on the merits of the Rich pardon and she's a trustee of the Clinton library and we already see links there with Denise Rich's contributions.
SHIELDS: Now, the answer given, in fairness, was that she was being asked about the cases in which she had participated, the White House counsel. That's what her advice would be. O'BEIRNE: Oh, no, John Podesta said that she was invited to join the discussion as long as long as she was there that evening, which is very peculiar.
HUNT: Can I, Mark?
SHIELDS: Go ahead, Al.
HUNT: You know, Mark, for five of the last six weeks you and Margaret and I have joined Kate and Bob in saying that the Rich pardon was inexcusable and it was sleazy. We talked about the campaign contribution link. well-connected lawyers.
We found out in the Burton hearings this week that it was worse than we thought it was. Clinton is the worst culprit, but we also were reminded that this connection, these political connections, is not new with Clinton. The Armand Hammer was even sleazier than Marc Rich, gave over $200,000 to the Bush campaign in 1988, was pardoned later. Bingo. Who was his lawyer? The politically well-connected Ted Olson, the nominee to be the next solicitor general. Bingo.
And Mr. Rich, who for the last -- for 10 years in-between government stints, who was his legal angel for the tune of $2 million? Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to the vice president of the United States today, Mr. Cheney. So I agree, Clinton is far worse, but let's not pretend these others were innocent.
O'BEIRNE: No, but we should fix the -- Ted Olson did not get a pardon for Armand Hammer. He did not get a pardon Armand Hammer and Armand Hammer's pardon in the Bush administration went all the way through the Department of Justice. The prosecutors agreed with it, and Armand hammer had pled guilty and paid a fine. Not like Marc Rich, who fled the country.
HUNT: Mr. Olson represented Armand Hammer...
NOVAK: Can I make a comment on this?
SHIELDS: Quick, Bob, quick.
NOVAK: Can I make a comment on this? I think it is very typical of Mr. Waxman that he always finds a Republican analog to any of the Democratic reprehensible conduct and Armand Hammer was a big giver to both parties. He was not a fugitive. He was he -- he gave -- he was convicted on campaign contributions and it was in the first year of the Bush presidency, not in the eleventh hour of a midnight pardon. Big difference.
SHIELDS: All right, let me just close with the final word, which is this: That when George Bush Senior, the first, pardoned all of those indicted people in the Iran-Contra hearings, they represented a far greater source of potential embarrassment to him as they were about to go under testimony in sworn court, than did Marc Rich to Bill Clinton other than the embarrassment to Bill Clinton. And Mr. Libby, let's get one thing about him, the vice president's top hand both at the Defense department and now with Dick Cheney as he sits one breath away from the presidency, he called Marc Rich on the 22nd of January to congratulate him. This is the sleaziest guy in the world, we're told, Bob. How could you even call a sleazy guy that you got million dollars from.
NOVAK: Mark, he had nothing to do with the pardon. How can you put that stuff out?
SHIELDS: He made the case, Bob. He wrote the brief.
NOVAK: He had nothing to with the pardon.
SHIELDS: Bob, he wrote the brief on why prosecutors could deal with Marc Rich...
NOVAK: But he had nothing to do with.
SHIELDS: He made -- Bob, he did the legal work. He made the case.
NOVAK: Wait a minute, you keep yelling at me, but he had nothing to with the pardon.
SHIELDS: Bob, Bob...
CARLSON: He made the case for the pardon.
SHIELDS: He made the case. Why...
NOVAK: That was a case for the pardon. It was a case for...
SHIELDS: He made the case why prosecutors could negotiate with a fugitive, which was against all the rules, as you know.
NOVAK: I think it's very sad that we have journalists who are putting out this crap about -- because you have an embarrassing situation with President Clinton that you're going and trying to find Republican connections.
SHIELDS: Bob, we are not defending President Clinton. We are pointing out, Bob, that money is the universal pollutant in this business and you deny it.
NOVAK: That's nonsense.
SHIELDS: You deny it, and you can deny it as long as you want. GO back to Palm Beach, Bob. We'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG classic on Bill Clinton's first speech to Congress.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. Eight years ago, another president delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress when Bill Clinton presented his proposed tax increase. Here's how THE CAPITAL GANG, your CAPITAL GANG, assessed its chances for passage on February 20, 1993.
HUNT: Mark, is the president going to be able to sell this program?
SHIELDS: We'll know in very short order, Al. Let me just say this. He has created a sense of urgency, and that was absolutely indispensable. Clinton has done this accountability thing, and that is going to, I think, go a long way. The third thing that cannot be ignored is the 64 freshman Democrats. They were elected, Al, with an idea of changing things in the country, not in Washington. This isn't sort of an open procedures group of people.
NOVAK: Oh, gag me.
SHIELDS: They were elected like Clinton, and they're there for change, and they are really it's bubbling up from below.
NOVAK: I'm saying that time is running against the president. You say, "We'll know in short order." you know, this is not the New Jersey legislature where Jim Florio can come in and rush through a big tax increase.
NOVAK: It's a long process. People don't even know what's in the program, but as it's going to work and people are going to look at it closely.
HUNT: People are willing to make sacrifices. Poll after poll shows that, focus group shows it, you talk to voters, they say it, as long as we have something different.
SHIELDS: Let me just raise one kind of dissenting point here, Al, and I think that the deficit has become the metaphor for failed federal government. If I were Bill Clinton and the Democrats, what I'd do is I'd take all that money collected in increased taxes and put it in a separate, segregated account only for deficit...
NOVAK: But then...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Except in 1990, we did that.
HUNT: I want to say I don't know what's going to happen substantively, but I think politically, this is not only a winner, but I think it's going to have lasting power.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, considering the loss of Congress for the Democrats that very following year, do you still think the Clinton tax increase was a political winner?
HUNT: What was the unemployment rate, Mark, when that tax increase was enacted?
SHIELDS: 7.7 percent.
HUNT: 4.2 percent today and what was the stock market back then? Do you remember?
HUNT: Yes, 10500 today. I rest my case.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, do you -- were you just persuaded by Al Hunt's case?
NOVAK: Of course, anybody who knows anything about investments that this had nothing whatsoever to do with the economic recovery which needed another tax at cut in 1997. I'd like you and Mark to go ask all those Democrats who got beat in 1994 because they put this through by a one-vote margin in each House how they felt this had lasting political value?
SHIELDS: Lasting political value -- Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: Here we can't cut taxes based on 10-year projections but boy were they eager to raise taxes back in 1993 based on 10-year projections of deficits.
SHIELDS: The one great prediction was Phil Gramms, it's a one- way ticket to the recession. Where's that recession, Margaret?
CARLSON: Yes, right. If Bush's tax cut is as successful with only Republican votes as Clinton, he'll be very lucky if he gets these results.
HUNT: Mark, one member lost because of that vote, Marjorie Mezvinsky, the others lost because of health care and the Democrats...
NOVAK: You really believe that?
HUNT: Even Republicans believe it.
NOVAK: That's the joke of the night.
SHIELDS: Thank you very much, Bob, I'll give you.
O'BEIRNE: The night's early, Bob.
SHIELDS: We'll be back for the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Give us another half-hour. "News Maker of the Week," Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, our "Beyond the Beltway" look at the Florida vote recount, and our "Outrage of the Week" all after a check of the hour's top news.
SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, Margaret Carlson, and in Miami, Robert Novak. Our "News Maker of the Week" is the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee: Republican Congressman Bill Thomas of California. A former political science teacher, he has been a member of Congress for 22 years. He is known in Congress more for his legislative skills than his amiability.
Al Hunt interviewed him in his Capitol Hill office this week.
HUNT: Chairman Thomas, Democrats complain that you made a mockery of President Bush's call for the end of partisan bickering by rushing through a tax bill in one day, no notice. They didn't have a chance to get any of their amendments. Is partisan politics alive and well in Washington?
REP. BILL THOMAS (R) CALIFORNIA: Well, Al, I don't know who you've been talking to. They get the complete notice in terms of the timeline of the material. We even accepted one of the Democratic amendments that were offered in committee. Although, come on, when we're talking about permanently reducing marginal rates in the tax code, it isn't exactly an area that has been a bipartisan love-in. As we move to the child credit, marriage penalty, death tax, and other areas, you're going to see bipartisan cooperation.
HUNT: On the other side, some on the political right claim that you were spineless, that by not making the tax cuts for the upper- income retroactive that you're really -- you caved in. How do you plead?
THOMAS: Well, I think I'll lift a line that the president used in his recent message, if "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" doesn't like it, I beg to differ, I think I'm just about right.
HUNT: Do you consider a tax cut of $5.6 billion in the current year in a $10 trillion economy, is that really an anti-recessionary stimulus?
THOMAS: No, but it's better than nothing. What it also does is indicate that we're doing everything we can to respond to the immediate needs of people. I know people in your salary category and others don't think $360 is a lot of money. But I actually have people in my district that would rather have the $360 than not have it.
But, remember, the child credit, which is a phased-in $500 above the current rate, could be made retroactive. The marriage penalty could be made retroactive. This was just the first bite. I'm amazed at how many people are assuming that this is all we're going to do. It is, according to all of the economic experts, if there is any fiscal stimulus in the package, the most fiscally stimulative. We made it retroactive. We accelerated it, and still we have complainers.
HUNT: Let me ask a final question: Democrats and Republicans alike agree that you're likely to be a very strong chairman. If you look back, can you give me one Ways and Means Committee chair or one other important chair who might be a model for what a Bill Thomas chairmanship will be like?
THOMAS: Well, there are certainly glimmers. I don't know about a model, but Wilbur Mills, in terms of his knowledge of the tax code and his ability to put together packages is someone that I've admired. Dan Rostenkowski in terms of his trying to pull folk together to build a package that he knew would pass is someone else. And of course Bill Archer in terms of his view of the guardian of the code.
So, if you roll all of those together: knowledge of the code, ability to put packages together, with an understanding of what your real responsibilities are as the chairman of Ways and Means, that kind of a composite picture is one that I would be very pleased with.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what kind of a chairman of Ways and Means Committee at this crucial time will Bill Thomas of California be?
HUNT: I can still feel some of those zingers, Mark. Look, most Democrats know this is going to be a very tough and a very able politician. He can be very conservative, witness this reverse Robin Hood tax bill, but on most measures, Bill Thomas is the kind of legislator who is going to reach across the aisle.
He's going to talk to the Ben Cardins and the Bob Matsuis as well as the conservative Democrats. He also is not going to be any pushover for the K Street lobbying crowd. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley are going to be tough on some of those special interests.
I think Bill Thomas's biggest problem, Mark, is going to be that he doesn't suffer fools gladly. And in his job, he's got to deal with a number of them, including a few in his own party.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak down there in Florida, you covered the Ways and Means Committee as a cub reporter here in town. Bill Thomas puts together a composite picture of Wilbur Mills, Democrat from Arkansas; Dan Rostenkowski, a tough, able Democratic politician from Chicago and Bill Archer from Texas. Now, I mean, tell us what kind of chairman you think Bill Thomas will be?
NOVAK: Well, I liked all three of those chairman, and I was very glad to see him bring up Wilbur Mills, who people now remember mostly in connection with the Fanne Fox incident. Wilbur Mills was a great chairman and there's many things about Thomas that remind me of Wilbur Mills.
I think that there's no question that Thomas is a very tough character. He's not as smooth and ingratiating as Mills, but I would think perhaps Al is going to be a little bit surprised on how much Bill Thomas really believes that the taxation of business in this country is really bad and down the line, not in this year, there has to be some improvement in the handicaps and impediments we put on American business. Less than in any other place in the world, but still too much.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, it's kind of refreshing to hear any politician say, and I disagree with Bill Thomas on a lot of things, but he says if "The New York Times" doesn't like what I'm doing and if "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page doesn't like what I'm doing, then I must be all right. It is kind of refreshing.
O'BEIRNE: Half right. He's only half right, Mark
SHIELDS: I'll go 95 percent, but go ahead.
CARLSON: Actually, Bush parroted in his speech, the mama bear and papa bear must be just right. Bill Thomas is lucky to have the Republicans who want a bigger tax cut and he's likely to have business crying out for more because then it, you know, helps him to look a little bit more reasonable.
The thing about Bill Thomas is he's very efficient and actually, you said he's not very amiable, I thought you brought out all his amiability and he did suffer fools in the interview, right.
CARLSON: Just kidding. I didn't mean that.
SHIELDS: Margaret, we're going to go right to Kate O'Beirne.
HUNT: Margaret, you're sitting in Bob's chair for one week and all of a sudden it's gotten to you.
CARLSON: You know, I'm heartless.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, your take.
O'BEIRNE: You know what kind of a chairman he's going to be? He's going to be a really busy chairman. He's got the tax cut bill as chairman of Ways and Means. He's going to have health care reform and he's going to have Social Security reform. The president announced, of course, he wants to appoint a commission. In six months, we could have the outlines of a plan for personal accounts.
So he's going to be awfully busy. His reputation is such, it seems to me, he will not be intimidated by Democrats, but he won't be ordered around by Republicans.
HUNT: Trade, too.
SHIELDS: And Bob Novak, just to close, I said about Bill Thomas he's somebody who's never met self-doubt. Self-doubt and he are total strangers and that comes through and that's going to be tough at times for a chairman trying to put together those competing egos on that committee.
NOVAK: In many ways, he's a throw back to a lot of lawmakers that I first knew 40 years ago when I covered the Hill because he really knows the material. He doesn't rely on aides. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the bills, which is one of the reasons that Republicans named him as chairman over Phil Crane, who had seniority over him.
But I will predict that he will be pretty much down the line supporting the Bush program. I don't think he's going to be out in left field opposing and trying to cut the Bush programs, including trade and many other matters that this tremendously important committee has to deal with.
HUNT: I agree with Bob Novak.
SHIELDS: OK, Al Hunt agrees and I just have to say in closing that I thought it was a great zing of Al Hunt when he spoke of people in your salary category. That was a nice little needle, Bill Thomas. Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at "The Miami Herald"'s Florida vote recount.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway," they are still counting presidential votes in Florida. "The Miami Herald" concluded its own investigation of the four counties in which the Gore campaign requested recounts and found that the Democratic candidate did not pick enough votes there to carry Florida and to win the election.
The newspaper found Al Gore gaining only 49 votes in Miami-Dade county, 140 short of the number needed to win. Martin Baron, executive editor of "The Miami Herald" joins us from Miami right now. Thanks for coming in, Marty, and Marty Baron, does this finally close the book on Election 2000 or will we in fairness have to wait hand recounts from the other 63 counties of your state?
MARTIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Well, I think this does not close the books. We have to wait and see what happens in the other counties, and we're still looking. We're finished with all counties except two, one small one and one large one. The large one being Duval County, where Jacksonville is.
SHIELDS: OK, and but Marty, your own sense of a timetable right now. When do you think all reasonable counting will be concluded?
BARON: We hope within the next several weeks, and we hope we can report the reports later this month.
SHIELDS: All right, and right now, could you say you know who won Florida?
BARON: No, we don't. We're still looking at the results. We're still tabulating the data. We can't say at this point what the results in Florida are.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak down in Florida right now, where you're constantly counting if not votes, whatever.
NOVAK: Friends, Bob, who are countless, and admirers. Tell us your sense of the latest revelation and disclosure?
NOVAK: Well, as I understand it, and Marty, can contradict me. I hope he does if I'm wrong, but these were the only counties that the Gore people wanted recounted, and they have been recounted. So, maybe they made a mistake in the strategy and limiting it the four counties.
But if they had won the case in the U.S. Supreme Court, these were the only counties that have been recounted and according to "The Miami Herald," assuming they had a fair count and I think they did, Bush would still be president. Is that right?
SHIELDS: Al Hunt -- go ahead, Marty.
HUNT: Go ahead, Marty.
BARON: Well, these are the four counties in which the Gore campaign initially asked for a recount and some of these counties were not completed. Miami-Dade, a count was never completed, and the count in Palm Beach County was never included in the certified vote. However, the Florida Supreme Court at one point, as you recall, ordered a manual recount of all 67 counties in the state of Florida.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt.
HUNT: I think that's a good point that Marty just made. I first commend "The Herald." I think they did a superb job and they showed that the Gore campaign was stupid in only requesting a recount in four counties because as he just said, what the Supreme Court of the United States stopped was a recount in all of counties.
We don't know what those other counts are going to show. Other newspapers, and I don't have any idea if they've done the thorough job that "The Herald" did, but other newspapers have already shown Gore picking up 206 votes in Orange, 120 in Hillsborough, 130 in Lake. So it remains to be seen.
If at the end it's clear that actually won the vote, though Mark, I think most people are going say, so what? I think the only thing that changes the political dynamics is if anybody ever proves fraud. So far, they have not.
O'BEIRNE: But even in the most recent count that Marty's newspaper did, don't we see the essential subjectivity -- first of all, I'm not so sure Al Gore was unwise to pick these four Democratic counties because "The Miami Herald" would not have been counting votes, Democratic board members would have been, and he may well have pulled way ahead which was the suspicion and the fear people always had about it. But if in the Miami-Dade recount -- "The Miami Herald" recount of Miami-Dade, gore picked up a net of only 49 votes, but in "The Palm Beach Post" recount in Miami-Dade, same ballots, Bush picked up six. It shows you even in the hands of presumably even-handed people, how subjective it is to be reading dimples.
SHIELDS: Marty, how about that?
BARON: Well, I can't speak to anybody else's methodology. All I can do is really speak to our own. We retained an independent, national accounting firm, the sixth largest accounting firm in the country, to do this for us. We took our time. We were very careful. We were very deliberate. It took us 80 hours over three weeks to do this. That was not the case in the other survey that you cited so we feel very confident in the results that we are reporting.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: It's overvotes where Gore actually makes up a lot of votes, in that there were the people who punched and then to make sure, wrote his name in. And you're right, these counties that he didn't think he would do well in he actually did, and that was a huge strategic error and I think the Gore people thought, well, we can't ask for a state-wide recount. That's too much to ask.
Let's target it. Let's get these ones where we think we'll do well, and so they did. But the good thing that's going to come out of this -- actually, 48 percent of the people voted for Bush wanted to win. But 90, 95 percent have an interest in stability. So we don't want to really find out that Gore won because this is what we have, Bush as president.
SHIELDS: Marty Baron, I thank you very much for being with us. I just add one thing, there was a major debate within the Gore campaign about whether asking for all the states -- all the counties and they concluded only drawing for the four. I think that you and history will prove that be an erroneous decision, but thanks so much, Marty.
BARON: Thanks for having me.
SHIELDS: The Gang will be back with the "Outrage of the Week." That's what we'll be back with.
SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week." Jesse Ventura. Minnesota maverick governor, gets a 2-1 favorably job rating from home state voters. But his decision to do TV color commentary on the weekend for a new football league is drawing criticism. Ventura points out the U.S. Senate doesn't even work on Mondays or Fridays, in large part because senators are jetting around the U.S. feverishly raising campaign funds. Jesse Ventura had a different tone, pledges if he runs again next year, he will not raise any campaign money directly. The outrage is the senators who raised money 24-7 and defend this corrupt system -- Bob Novak NOVAK: Jane Fonda has contributed $12.5 million to the Harvard School of Graduate Education to form, to establish a center for gender and education. This is part of what Christina Hoff Sommers in her new book correctly calls "the war against boys." Ms. Fonda's gift endows a professorship for the feminist Carol Gilligan, whose tawdry economic credentials were in the Hoff Sommers book. Jane Fonda does not know any better, but Harvard should be ashamed with itself.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson
CARLSON: Up with girls, Bob. House members already make $145,100 a year and get a generous travel and entertainment allowance. But unsatisfied, some House members are fighting for an additional daily stipend of $165 a day, that's $25,000 a year, for living in Washington, where the average household makes only $40,000 per year. Like the Bush tax cut, where lawmakers think it's the height of generosity to give the middle class a muffler and the wealthy a Lexus, they have no guilt giving themselves combat pay for dining at the Palm and living in Georgetown.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne
O'BEIRNE: International Olympic Committee inspectors have recently been in Beijing reviewing the city as a possible site for the 2008 Olympics. It will be an outrage if China's brutal regime scores a public relations triumph by hosting the games. The State Department, in its annual report released Monday, found religious persecution and political repression have worsened in China. Beijing's tyrants crave respectability, but have earned the world's condemnation.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt.
HUNT: I can't believe that Jane Fonda is against boys like Bob Novak
Wendell Walker Jr. of Hillsboro, Oregon was arrested and accused of killing his wife, dismembering her body, and burning it. This is the same Mr. Walker who, in 1981, received a pardon for a previous bank robbery from Ronald Reagan. Now, I guess that pardon probably was perfectly justified, but just imagine the reaction 20 years from now if one of the folks, the non-Marc Rich types, that Clinton pardoned is accused of such a crime. And some pretend there's a liberal bias in the press?
SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. "CNN TONIGHT" is coming up next.
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