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Is Big Business Winning Big in Washington?

Aired March 16, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Tonight, on issues ranging form bankruptcy to global warming, big business is winning big in Washington. Are good laws being made, or is it payback time for the big money big business gave to George W. Bush?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and in San Francisco, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California.

NOVAK: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE. These are heady days for corporate business and it lobbyists in Washington. For them, the long national Clinton nightmare is over.

Business has been on a fabulous winning streak over the last two weeks. It all began when Congress nullified expensive worker safety rules, instituted by President Clinton during his final hours in office. Next, President Bush announced he does not favor federal regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, though he said on the campaign trail that he did.

Then the Senate overwhelmingly passed a measure Bill Clinton had vetoed, but that was desired by creditors. It imposes tougher bankruptcy laws. And President Bush has announced, no he will not let Northwest airlines mechanics go on strike.

Is this all unfair? Or is it overdue retribution? In any way, can it be said that what's good for business is good for America -- Bill Press?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Jerry Jasinowski, good to see you here on CROSSFIRE


PRESS: February 26th was a historic day here at "CROSSFIRE," not just because it was Bob Novak's 70th birthday, but because we had as a guest environmental protection administrator Christie Whitman who took occasion to re-affirm George Bush's campaign pledge to regulate CO2 and do something about global warming. Here's what Christie Whitman had to say.


CHRISTIE WHITMAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multi- pollutant strategy, and that includes CO2, and I have spoken to that. He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming. It does exist.


PRESS: Now, of course, about 10 days later, the White House reversed itself, and they said that the president just made a mistake. It was a mistake to put that line in the campaign speech.

Jerry, I want you to be honest. It wasn't a mistake, this is a huge flip-flop, and this is a broken campaign promise. Isn't it?

JASINOWSKI: Well, I think, first of all, it was a mistake, and the reason it is a mistake is because that you can't have a decent energy policy in this country if you are going to go ahead and have a mandatory ruling on CO2, because it is not going to allow to you use coal, and coal constitutes about 50 percent of our electricity.

We have an energy crisis in this country, Bill, and I think once everybody looked at all the analysis of it, and advised the president, he made the right decision.

PRESS: Well, look, Christie Whitman was not the only person from the administration out there, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, just next day, February 27th, sent a 3-page letter to the president, urging strong action to fight global warning and to regulate CO2. Even Commerce Secretary Don Evans sent a memo out to other cabinet members. Did not go as far as Paul O'Neill, but said this is an important matter. It's pretty clear, isn't it, that Dick Cheney, big oil Dick Cheney, pulled the plug on these guys.

JASINOWSKI: Well, I think Don Evans is right. It is an important matter. He did not suggest that we go as far as others have suggested.

And I would just remind you that the Senate and in a vote of 95 to nothing decided not to go forward with the Kyoto plan, and that position was supported by labor, because they thought it went too far on CO2.

So, there's is a real big debate on this, and I don't think you ought to pretend that it's the president, and the Republicans, and business that are really opposed to this. A lot of people across the country there are opposed to these mandatory regulations on CO2.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Pelosi, welcome.


NOVAK: Thank you, a little bit late, but that's OK.

PELOSI: I know. Well, it's still this year. NOVAK: You know, before we go back to the CO2 question, I just want to paint the picture of the mood in Washington, and I'd like to have a wonderful quote from the famous lobbyist Richard Hohlt, Rick Hohlt, it was in "The Wall Street Journal" a while back. He said: "We have come out of the cave, blinking in the sunlight, saying to one another, my God, now we can actually get something done!"

Nancy, isn't it the case that after eight years of the president, and the labor bosses, and the left-wingers suppressing the just aspirations of business, it is time for business to get some of these things done?

PELOSI: Well, I don't know Rick Hohlt, but I do think he is acting like a caveman. I think that what is happening in Washington, D.C. is a survival of fittest mentality. I think that what you said in your opening remarks, business is on a roll -- the rolling over working families in America, whether it is workers' safety, whether it is in a bankruptcy bill, which went too far, whether it is in the environment, the very air that we breathe.

President Bush has made a strong point of saying that he is going to keep his campaign promises. He says hey, I said I was going to give a tax cut, so I'm giving a tax cut. He also said very clearly, with help of Congress, environmental groups and industry we will require all power plants to meet Clean Air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide. That's his statement.

Now, other countries -- in other countries, the minister would have to resign if she were so undermined by the president, by the leader of her country.

NOVAK: That may not be a bad idea, but I wouldn't want to judge that. But Congresswoman Pelosi...

PELOSI: Well, I think it would be a bad idea...

NOVAK: You just quoted from the president -- and he was then governor -- Bush's speech in Saginaw, Michigan. Now, you and I disagree on a lot of things, but I think you usually tell the truth. You know, I looked up -- that was on September 29th, the year 2000 -- that was the 49th paragraph, half of a sentence of a 60-paragraph speech.

I looked in "The New York Times," there was nothing about it. I looked in "The Washington Post," there was nothing about it. I looked in "The Wall Street Journal," there was nothing about it. There was nothing about it on the networks, and all the people who are whining that, my goodness, he broke his word, they didn't even know he had made that promise! Now, I ask you the question: you didn't have any idea, did you, on September 29th, 2000, that George Bush had had somebody slip that errant phrase into his energy speech?

PELOSI: The fact is that the president made this statement -- I'm so glad you are going down this path, because I want to bring up another subject, and that is when the president overturned our bipartisan agreement on international family planning, I asked his -- one of his people in his administration, I said the president never talked about this in the campaign, and they said oh, yes, he filled out a questionnaire someplace, so he is keeping that promise he made in a questionnaire...

NOVAK: I asked you a question, Nancy. I want you to know -- you had no idea, you hadn't the slightest -- you don't have the slightest idea, did you, that he had made that statement in Saginaw, Michigan?

PELOSI: I knew that the president -- I didn't know it that day, but I knew that that was his commitment, and you knew it was his commitment when he became president, and his administrator said so on your show.

It wasn't until he heard from someone to take the words out of his address to Congress -- it was in his address to Congress, and the business community coaxed it out of his address, and obviously coaxed it out of his administration as well. So, you are right, caveman style business is on a roll, but not all business is that unenlightened.

JASINOWSKI: So, I want to just jump in here and say -- you say not all business are that unenlightened -- Nancy, we worked with you on technology issues...

PELOSI: That's right.

JASINOWSKI: ... you support some important issues. Most of these issues we are talking about -- ergonomics is one -- we had a bipartisan group of people who said that rule was so bad we had to throw it out. If you look at the bankruptcy bill, it was passed by 85-15 in the Senate -- again, very bipartisan.

If you look at the tax bill, we just passed a bill in the House which, again, had bipartisan support. So there's a lot of Democrats who happen to think this president is making some decisions that are pretty good.

PRESS: Now, I want to ask you about that bankruptcy bill because -- let me make it clear: I don't think because Democrats vote for something, that makes it right. It can be bipartisan. I still think it stinks.

JASINOWSKI: Eighty-five to 15?

PRESS: I don't care. I think this bankruptcy bill stinks. And I'll tell you why. You can't open your mail today without getting a free credit card in it. Our producer told me today she got an application from a credit card in the mail giving her a million dollar credit line -- a million dollars.

I mean, that is ridiculous. So now the Senate passes this thing, making it tougher for people to declare bankruptcy, making it easier for the credit card companies to take -- seize their home or their car. Jerry, don't you think they have it backwards? Instead of attacking the consumers, shouldn't the Congress have attacked the credit card companies?

JASINOWSKI: Let me tell you why this bankruptcy bill is a good piece of legislation, Bill.

First of all, you have had an increase in bankruptcies in the last couple years of about 300 percent. We are up to almost two billion people who are declaring bankruptcy. These people are just walking away from bills. And, as a result, companies -- including a lot of small companies -- end up with the charges. And it adds a couple hundred dollars to the typical consumers' bill.

We have been too easy on the bankruptcy bill. And we have hurt consumers as a result.

PRESS: Well, that is the argument that was made, of course. And that is why Bill Clinton vetoed this legislation. But let me just show you why I think -- I think it is clear why it passed. The No. 1 credit card company in the country is MBNA, Wilmington, Delaware -- my hometown, OK? Close to my hometown. The No. 1 contributor to George Bush happens to be MBNA.

And look at this. The No. 1 contributor to Republicans last year -- we'll put it up on the screen -- MBNA. Last year, 86 percent of their dough went to Republicans. That is total $1.5 million; 14 percent went to Democrats. Jerry, this is payback time to NBA.

NOVAK: MBNA. NBA is the Basketball Association.




JASINOWSKI: Everybody is giving money on both sides.

PELOSI: That's right.

JASINOWSKI: And I think that is really not what happened in this case, in terms of the decision on the bill. I think it makes sense from a consumer point of view. And I don't think that the payback is what you say it is.

PELOSI: Well, if it makes sense from a consumers' point of view, the Consumer Federation of America doesn't agree. We all agree people should pay their bills; they should pay debts. But when they can't, we don't have to be brutal about it. Even Henry Hyde objected to some of the language in the House bill when it came before us last year, the bill that President Clinton vetoed.

So we can have a bankruptcy bill that works, that protects creditors and debtors. We didn't have go to these lengths. I think this was shameful.

JASINOWSKI: Let me just ask you, Nancy: Are you, in fact, going to oppose a bankruptcy bill in the House? PELOSI: I supported the substitute, which was less onerous than the bill that did pass.

JASINOWSKI: Yes, well, it's still -- I mean, you agree in principle that there is a major issue here we are trying to address, don't you?

PELOSI: Yes, but I don't think -- I don't think that we have to be as brutal about it: pushing people from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13 indiscriminately that we have to put a stigma on bankruptcy when it is a legitimate route for people to go, and say that we are doing this because they are all trying to avoid their responsibilities. Some of them are not.

If they are, then I don't agree with that. But we want people to pay their bills. We want to give them a way, though, to dig themselves out.

PRESS: All right.

PELOSI: We didn't have to be this brutal.

PRESS: Congresswoman Pelosi, Mr. Jasinowski, please hold right there. We're going to take a break.

And when we come back, another issue: Why did President Bush stop an airline strike before the strike even started?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Well, if you were worried about a strike against Northwest Airlines, don't! Last weekend, President Bush acted to stop a potential strike even before labor and management leaders had finished their negotiations. Airline execs say Bush acted promptly to protect passengers. Labor leaders say he acted prematurely to reward his big- business buddies.

Here tonight debating, "Is big business calling the shots in the Bush White House?: Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers and Democratic Congressman...


PRESS: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi from California -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Pelosi, I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself after all...


NOVAK: ... after all the business-bashing you did in the last segment. The...

PELOSI: I wasn't business-bashing. NOVAK: The mechanics' Union at Northwest Airlines, not an AFL- CIO union, it's a rogue union. Just the other day, they turned down an offer that, in some cases, would provide a $75,000-a-year salary for mechanics, a wonderful -- my sources in labor say was a wonderful offer.

They are just causing trouble. Do you think that there is any excuse for a union like that to cause inconvenience for the ordinary folk that go on airplanes these days? Isn't the president doing a national service by assuring those people that you will not have a strike and your life will not be inconvenienced?

PELOSI: We certainly want to avoid airline strikes, that is for sure. We also -- I believe in collective bargaining. And I don't think that the president should have diminished the leverage of working people at that negotiating table.

So let's have a negotiation. Let's come to a conclusion. And let's proceed in that way. For the president to strengthen the hand of one side in that negotiation, I don't think was right. But before we go down this path completely, we haven't finished on ergonomics in the other segment. I'm not business-bashing.

NOVAK: Well, look -- no, wait. No, wait.

PELOSI: There are many people in the country -- many businesses in the country -- 3M for one, taking the lead -- which seen their business benefit from a fair workplace standard. And that is something that the Republicans and president of the United States just totally ignored the best scientific information, the priority...


NOVAK: I know you don't want to discuss airlines.

PRESS: Give us a break.

NOVAK: But I want to finish on the airlines first because...

PELOSI: As I said to you, I disagree with you.

NOVAK: Bill Press -- Bill Press made a ridiculous statement that somehow or another the MBNA had bought the president of the United States on the bankruptcy...

PRESS: That is true.

NOVAK: With all due respect, Nancy, haven't the labor unions bought you and your colleagues? That you cannot even say that this union is out of line, you cannot even say we want to protect the traveler, because you are in hock to organized labor?

PELOSI: I started by saying that we all want to avoid any airline strikes. I go back and forth to California every single week. I live a third of my life, practically, on the airplanes, so I know what it is to be inconvenienced, believe me. But I also believe that working people should have the leverage at the table that collective bargaining gives them. And I don't really like your questioning my motivation about what I support and why I do. But I will say...

NOVAK: You question the president's motivation.


PRESS: All right, thanks.

PELOSI: No, I didn't question his motivation. I just said -- disagreed with him wholeheartedly. And I said that they avoided the scientific information that says that workplace safety is important, it's very important to women.

PRESS: Jerry Jasinowski, quick question on both the airline -- first airline and then the ergonomics thing. On the airlines, again, I'll make another ridiculous statement: Follow the money. I don't think that's ridiculous at all. It's the way Washington works. I'm going to look at the contributions last year from the airline industry. Republicans got 61 percent of the airline money, Democrats, 39 percent. First threat of a strike comes up -- they're still sitting at the table -- and Bush goes, "Bang." Payback to the airlines. It is, again -- It's payback, isn't it, Jerry?

JASINOWSKI: You know, we've got a situation now on the economy, Bill, I'm sure you've noticed it, where we're in recession -- in manufacturing. And many parts of economy are on the edge of recession, and frankly, all of us in business, and many people who are the workers of this country, because of layoffs, are worried that the economy is going to fall apart.

We do not want to have a strike now in the airlines, which is going to making everything a lot worse. Now, maybe we're going to have to have one, but I think all the president has asked for is some time to see if these people can work that out. And I think that's important. Let's not forget that the economy is kind of the overriding issue on a number of these issues, including the airline strike.

PRESS: On the worker safety ergonomics issue: You know, these rules were started by Elizabeth Dole under Daddy Bush, when he was president, and then they were adopted 20 years later -- 10 years later -- I'm sorry, and this President Bush totally reversed them. Why? Was his father wrong?

JASINOWSKI: Bush had nothing to do with the ergonomics turn back. Nothing, nothing.

PRESS: He's reversed it.

JASINOWSKI: It was reversed by the Congress. And it was reversed by the Congress because...

PRESS: And supported by the administration. JASINOWSKI: They really had nothing to do with it.

PRESS: Oh, Jerry.

JASINOWSKI: We started this battle from the beginning, and we fought it because we didn't agree with Nancy. We thought this was the worst rule that we'd seen. Small business came en masse, we went to the Congress. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, rejected this rule. The Bush administration had nothing do with it.

NOVAK: And I say hurrah, thank you very much.

Jerry Jasinowski, thank you very much. Nancy Pelosi. And Bill Press and I will be back, and I'll try to explain to Bill why it's important for the Democrats to change their tune on business.


NOVAK: Bill, the late Senator Paul Tsongas once wisely told his fellow Democrats: Lay off business because they are the people who provide the jobs. You can't kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and I hope that President Bush does one more -- at least one more good thing, and that's end the persecution of Microsoft, because that's what's started the whole stock market decline.

PRESS: Actually, I oppose that lawsuit as well, Bob. But let me tell you something, I'm not surprised at all this big business rush. I mean, this is the big oil ticket, and now it's a big oil administration, so we didn't expect anything more. He's in bed with big business and you don't expect him to be anyplace else.

But you know what? I'm going to surprise you. I don't blame George Bush. I blame Ralph Nader, who said there's no difference between George Bush and Al Gore. And Al Gore would be in the White House if it weren't for Ralph Nader.

NOVAK: If you hate business so much, why don't you go to...

PRESS: I don't hate business.

NOVAK: Can I finish my sentence?

PRESS: You can.

NOVAK: If you hate business...

PRESS: Just don't lie. I don't hate business.

NOVAK: If you hate business so much, why don't you go to Albania?

PRESS: Let me just tell you something, Bob. I love business that doesn't pollute and that protects workers.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. That's it for CROSSFIRE tonight.

NOVAK: All right. I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE!



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