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CNN Late Edition

What Will Become of Tax Cuts?; What Will Aid Economic Recovery?; Has the Bush Administration Declared War on the Environment?

Aired March 25, 2001 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Hollywood, 6:00 p.m. in Paris and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you for joining us for this two-hour LATE EDITION.

We'll get to interview with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in just a moment, but first the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Joining us now to talk about how Republicans plan to push through the president's tax cut, as well as other proposals, is the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Senator, always good to have you on LATE EDITION, thanks. Thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: And we're going to get to tax cuts in a second, but very quickly, on the situation in Macedonia, US-NATO troops are already, of course, in the Balkans. Is this an area where you believe the United States has a vital national security interest that would warrant additional U.S. deployments in and around Macedonia, for example?

LOTT: Certainly we have an interest in the region, and we have troops in the region. I know that General Ralston, who is our top military officer in that region is in town last week and this week, talking to the administration about the best way to proceed.

I don't think that this situation calls for a big injection of additional troops right into the fighting. But there are some other things that can be done, hopefully some way to maybe seal off the borders where reinforcements can't enlarge the numbers that are in those hills that we were just seeing fired upon.

So, clearly it's an important area, but I think that this administration will approach the whole region differently, and in my opinion, in a wiser way.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about tax cuts. Right now, you heard Senator Lieberman just now reiterate what a lot of Democrats are saying: Forget about the long-term tax cuts over 10 years. There's an immediate problem in the United States right now, a sagging economy, get $60 billion retroactive tax relief available. That'll sail through the House and the Senate. Do it as a stand-alone measure. What do you say about that?

LOTT: Well, first of all, they will continue their efforts any way they can to try to prevent the people from getting a real tax relief package that they deserve, that's fairer and will help the economy.

Remember, it was six weeks ago or more that the president was one of the first people that said we ought to make as much of this tax relief package retroactive as possible.

And when Democrats say let's do more, let's take $50 or $60 billion and make it available to the people quicker, we're like Brer Rabbit. Throw me into that briar patch. We need to do it for the economy.

But also, a part of what we need to do is for people to know that this is going to continue over a period of years. It's not going to be given to you now and taken away.

You know, really what they are advocating was, well, let's just fly over the country and drop out, you know, $300 checks to everybody, regardless of what they paid or whether they paid taxes or not.

But there's some ways we can do this. The Treasury Department could rework the withholding tables. People could begin to have a reduction in the withholding as early as July or August, and then also people next year would have a significantly lower tax rate.

But it's got to be connected to the overall package. This is about the fourth or fifth effort by the Democrats to undermine the type of real rate cuts across the board that are essential, now and in the future.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to the Democrats like Senator Daschle, Senator Lieberman? By May 1 they could get this enacted, if you're willing to work, get it retroactive, this refund, at least $300 per person, and that could help stimulate the economy.

LOTT: Well, I...

BLITZER: Just leave it alone and then deal with the longer-term 10-year tax cut proposal down the road?

LOTT: Once again, they will do anything to try to prevent working Americans from getting reliable tax relief.

But this is a change on their part, and so I think it's welcome news. They want to move earlier, that's good, if they'll, you know, not try to block our efforts.

I've been talking to Senator Domenici, chairman of the Budget Committee, Senator Grassley, chairman of the Finance Committee. Let's see if we can't get this done before the end of May, before Memorial Day. Because out there in the country, working Americans, their fuel bills have gone up, their tax rates are too high. They're getting ready to pay their income tax. They're not happy right now.

And so there is a lot that we can do, and we hopefully can work together to get it accomplished.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Daschle, your counterpart and the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, he was on CNN's Inside Politics earlier this week. Listen to what he said, because he's reaching out to you, he's trying to find some sort of common ground where there can be a consensus. Listen to this.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Let's see how much money we've got. Let's see what the situation looks like a year from now. Let's come back and look at other pieces later. This is what we can agree on now, and we ought to do it.


BLITZER: Sounds like he's trying to reach out to you.

LOTT: Well, I'll welcome any positive movements.

Again, what they want to do is to give a little temporary tax relief, but nothing that you can rely on. And actually what that means, if you give a little relief now and you don't continue it, it's a tax increase down the road.

BLITZER: But, as you know, the version of the tax cut out that came out of the House only had under $10 billion in relief this year. What they're saying is increase it up to $60 billion.

LOTT: Well, I think that is a good proposal, and I take that as a positive move on their part. I know the administration is willing to work with us on getting that done. And that's why key members of Senate Republican leadership met with Secretary O'Neill and Vice President Cheney last week to look at exactly how we can do that.

We want to make sure we do it in the right way that'll really help the people quicker. But also make sure that in the out years it won't affect Social Security and Medicare. So we want to look at this very, very carefully.

But, you know, again, a lot of this is inside-ballpark, inside- Washington stuff. We need to be thinking about working Americans, what can we do to get them help quicker and make sure the tax code is fairer over the long haul.

BLITZER: Senator Grassley, the chairman of the Finance Committee in the Senate, spoke out earlier this week about some Republicans saying 1.6 is not enough. I think he's referring in part to you, that maybe there could be a lot more tax cuts down the road. Listen to what Senator Grassley said on Thursday in the "Des Moines Register."

He said, "I think it's very important for all Republicans to sing off the same song sheet. The extent to which I start using a higher figure or other people use a higher figure, I think that puts doubt into people's minds whether we can pay down the national debt."

Tom Delay and you and others have said maybe $1.6 trillion is not enough.

LOTT: Well, I would like to see it possibly be more. I would like to see things like capital gains part of the package. But I'm committed to what the president has proposed. I think he's in the right range. I think that across-the-board income rate cuts is absolutely vital. And so I agree with Chuck, let's get on message. Let's get this done and then let's see what other things we might can do that would really help the economy.

BLITZER: The top rate under the president's plan would go from 39.6 percent down to 33 percent. Although some Democrats -- a lot of Democrats and even some Republicans are now saying 35 or 36 percent might be more realistic. Are you committed to that 33 percent number for the top rate, the wealthiest Americans? Or are you ready to compromise on the area?

LOTT: I fully agree with the president when he says no American should pay more than a third of what they earn for federal income taxes. But, you know, as majority leader, I have to listen to all the different ideas, and I have to be prepared to consider that as we move through the process.

But let me make a point. A lot of small-business men and women pay at the 39.6 rate. They're the ones that could get a real benefit, and it could be very helpful to the economy if that rate is lowered down to 33 percent. So, this is not just about wealthy individuals. This is about small-business men and women and farmers also.

BLITZER: A lot of Americans are looking at the turmoil in the U.S. economy right now, saying "We don't know what's going to happen 10 weeks from now, let alone 10 years from now as far as the U.S. economy is concerned." How can you be so confident in these 10-year surplus projections at a time when there is so much uncertainty unfolding right now?

LOTT: Well, first of all, I believe most people would acknowledge that projections are conservative assumptions, that it more than likely will be higher. Even last year...

BLITZER: On that point, though, it's based on a nearly 3 percent annual growth rate. In the last quarter it was 1.1 percent. Who knows if it's going to be 3 percent?

LOTT: I've got a quick answer to that. If it's not what we project it will be, then that's a clearer sign that you need to give some tax relief as the only other tool to work with monetary policy, lowering interest rates that could keep the actually economy growing and provide people job security. So I can argue that either way. BLITZER: But you know, some Republicans are saying there is another alternative, triggers, which would prevent certain tax cuts from being implemented if the surpluses aren't there.

LOTT: Well, I don't think we should have a trigger or a mid- course review. However, as a part of the Senate process, you've got to listen to senators on both sides of the aisle. And if some idea can be developed that would allow for a process to take a look at what's happening, you would have to at least consider that.

BLITZER: We're going to have an extensive discussion coming up on this program on campaign finance reform. But I want to get your sense of where it stands right now at the end of week one. You promised Senator McCain two weeks of free debate, that's unfolding. One more week to go. Could you live with Senator Chuck Hagel's alternative to McCain-Feingold, which would not impose a complete ban on the unregulated so-called soft money that goes to the political parties?

LOTT: You know, first of all, Wolf, at a time when the economy is a little shaky, I think most people would say, and we got energy problems and we continue to worry about education in America, we're involved in this self-indulgent process of trying to basically kind of look out for ourselves, make sure that incumbents have the lowest possible rates, the millionaire problem and all of that.

LOTT: But in direct answer to your question, yes, I could support the Hagel package. I do think there's some areas where we can have genuine campaign finance reform, but it's got to be fair. We've got to do it in such a way that doesn't destroy the parties and that candidates can raise sufficient funds to get their message out without it just become a feeding frenzy, which it has to be because the limits are so low now on the so-called individual, or hard, contributions.

BLITZER: So in the end, would you predict that something closer to Hagel is going to emerge or something closer to McCain-Feingold or nothing?

LOTT: Well, you've got two experts coming on after this segment, and maybe they're the right ones to ask. But I think to raise the individual contribution limits is critical. If we can do that to a level that's acceptable, then it might have a chance.

BLITZER: Senator McCain's also opposed to the president when it comes to the so-called patients' bill of rights, dealing with HMOs. He has a legislation with Senator Kennedy, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, which is quite different than what the president has in mind. In fact, the president this week said in Orlando, Florida, he'll veto that legislation if it gets passed. Do you sense that it's getting personal between the president and Senator McCain right now?

LOTT: Not really, I don't. You know, I talked to the president and we talk about issues. We talked about Senator McCain's issues that he's involved in. And I talk to John McCain regularly, and I don't feel that there's that kind of animosity. There is disagreement along the way on some issues. Senator McCain has indicated basically kind of a happiness with the position the president's staked out on campaign finance reform, at least is saying he would be willing to sign it if certain principles were met.

On a patients' bill of rights, we need to do something in that area, but it needs to be based on an appeals process. It shouldn't be something that just, you know, says to lawyers, sue any time you want to. You know, Senator McCain has joined with Senator Kennedy, clearly who has very liberal positions on health care issues, and Senator Edwards who is a plaintiff's lawyer, trial lawyer. Unusual company.

But I think the president should veto that bill if it ever got to him. But once again, we're looking to how we can get a that the president can sign, a bill that Senator Nickels and Graham and Senator Collins and others, Senator Frist can also support.

BLITZER: Speaking about Senator Collins, Susan Collin, the moderate Republican from Maine, she's quoted as saying in the new issues of "U.S. News & World Report." She says, "I think Senator Lott's task has never been more difficult. He has a caucus with diverse views. And on any issue, if he loses even one vote, he has potentially lost."

In this 50-50 Senate, she's right, isn't she?

LOTT: She's right, but I don't view it, you know, as a big problem. I view it as a challenge. I enjoy it. I think that we will win most of the key votes, and I think it'll be done with some Democrats voting with us, as well as holding most, if not all, Republicans.

But the best part of things today, Wolf, is that there's a new tone in town. We have a new president, and I get up every morning knowing that I'll be able to work with this president, and he won't cause problems for us, and we can get some things done that will help working Americans, my family and a lot of families across this country.

BLITZER: In the same issue of U.S. News & World Report, I don't know if you saw the article today, but it does say this about you, Senator Lott. It says, "The veteran lawmaker from Mississippi is a man with a newly discovered inner peace. Call it Mississippi Zen."


BLITZER: Is there a new inner peace that you're now demonstrating?

LOTT: Maybe there is. You know, when you go through leadership challenges along the way, you reach a point where you do have a certain calm.

But I think a lot of it is attributable to the fact that we don't have the cloud hanging over us from down at the White House. We're working for things. I like to play offense, I don't like defense. I like to be doing things for our country, protecting Social Security, reforming Medicare, tax relief, genuine education reform. LOTT: I'm the son of a schoolteacher. I want public education in America and all education to work and for our kids to learn to be able to participate in the world.

And so, yes, there is a certain Zen that maybe I'm enjoying these days.

BLITZER: A different Zen coming from the White House and a different Zen coming from the Senate majority leader.

LOTT: Right.

BLITZER: Thank you so much, Senator, for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

LOTT: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll get the Democratic view from Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. And later, he'll square off on campaign finance reform with his Republican colleague, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We turn now to one of the leading Democrats in the United States Senate, Christopher Dodd. He joins us from Hartford, Connecticut.

Senator Dodd, thanks for joining us.

I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the comments that were made by Senator Lott, specifically on the tax cut proposal. He says he's willing to work with the Democrats, get that $60 billion tax cut retroactive to January 1 of this year, but keep it as part of the overall package, the $1.6 trillion package the president has put forward. Don't try to separate it out, because in the end, he insists the only thing the Democrats are trying to do is kill the rest of the tax cuts and just take the $60 billion this year.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I'm going to take the good news. The good news is we might get some agreement on the $60 billion or some number like that for this year, make it retroactive, as I think you pointed out.

The only part of the president's tax proposal that would become available in the short-term is about $5 billion. Hardly going to provide any kind of help to people who are already feeling the pinch as a result of a weakening economy.

So, I take the majority leader's comments about the $60 billion as a positive sign. My hope is we could work something out in the next month or so. I think we could really provide a needed incentive or needed psychological boost to people whose confidence levels are deteriorating. Now when it comes to larger tax cut, there are problems with this. A 10-year bill, we've already seen -- this proposal, by the way, was offered about a year ago when President Bush was campaigning for the presidency in the midst of the most robust economies in this country.

We're now in anything but a robust economy, and it seems to me the president ought to tailor his tax cut proposal, and that's what most of we Democrats are calling for here. This is way too big, it's far too speculative, and it's unfair. And it seems to me we ought to moderate it.

BLITZER: But how do you get around the issue of keeping the separate or keeping it part of the overall tax cut plan? Both Senator Lott and the House Majority Whip Tom DeLay earlier today insisted it has to be part of the overall package. How do you get around that issue?

DODD: Well, I think you've already seen about four or five Republicans in the Senate have indicated that the president's tax proposal is way too big. At a 50-50 Senate, I think the president's tax proposal is already in trouble in the United States Senate.

Now when you're talking about, under the best of circumstances, a surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next 10 years -- by the way, for the first time in my memory, the Office of Management and Budget is more optimistic about the surplus than the private sector is. Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo, in fact, have predicted surpluses far less than what the Office of Management and Budget has.

So it seems to me that those growing number of Republicans along with Democrats are sending a message, and that is, you're going to have to moderate this huge tax cut substantially if you expect it to get through the Senate.

BLITZER: One of the issues I discussed with Senator Lott was President Bush's proposal to drop the highest income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent. Some are suggesting 35 or 36 percent might be better. But listen to what President Bush himself said on Thursday on this specific issue and what he says it would do to help stimulate the economy. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Dropping a top rate would provide more cash flow for small business owners to be able to invest, to buy new printers, to employ more people. Oh, I've heard the rhetoric, but they're missing the point. The point is how do to encourage growth particularly when the economy's beginning to slow down? And a good way to do so is to drop that top rate.


BLITZER: Are you, A, ready to drop the top rate, and, B, if you are, how low are you ready to go? DODD: Well, I have serious questions about the idea that there should be no American paying a third of their gross income in federal taxes. Well, people at that income level don't pay that, and most Americans know that.

It seems to me there are other things we need to do in addition to drop taxes, and most of us in the Senate are for a tax cut. That's not the issue. The question is the size of it and how well balanced it is. We think there ought to be refundability. We think people who are of modest incomes ought to be getting some real relief here.

Small-business people are not in the income levels the president is talking about. And if we're going to provide some incentives, we ought to do it in the shorter term, not in the longer term. Again, the president's proposal of $1.6 trillion doesn't really kick in until much later even for these people he's talking about. So, it seems to us the $60 billion or something like that where you might provide real relief for people in the payroll tax, which many people of modest income are paying more in payroll taxes than they are income taxes, is a much wiser way to go.

DODD: I think there is a growing constituency in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for that approach. Then let's have a more modest tax cut that the president is suggesting. That could be done. You could build bipartisan support for that, but not at the size he's been talking about.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Dodd, please stand by. We have to take a quick break. But when we return, we'll be joined by one of your Republican colleagues who is leading the charge against campaign finance reform, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. He weighs in on the war over politics and money when LATE EDITION continues.



PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I would like a bill to sign, and I want all parties involved in the debate to know that I'm anxious to sign a bill and look forward to a bill. And I'm confident that they'll be able to come up with a bill that I can sign.


BLITZER: President Bush weighing in on campaign finance reform legislation.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation with Connecticut Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd. And now joining us here in Washington is Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Senator McConnell, of course always good to have you on LATE EDITION, as well. And I want to begin with you, Senator McConnell.

You heard the president say he's hoping that he'll be able to sign some sort of campaign finance reform legislation. You just heard Senator Lott say he thinks he could live with what Senator Chuck Hagel, the alternative to McCain-Feingold -- he thinks he could live with that.

I take it you are now ready to support Senator Hagel and his alternative proposal?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Yes, I think the Hagel bill is something I could live with. I mean, what it does, Wolf, is cap nonfederal money. If there is an appearance of corruption that concerns people, the way you deal with that is with a cap, just like we did with hard money 26 years ago. I hope that'll pass. If that passes, then this is a salvageable bill from my point of view.

BLITZER: Why would that be constitutional, the Hagel legislation, whereas you insist the McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional as far as free speech, the use of money as defined by free speech?

MCCONNELL: Well, yes, the biggest problem with the McCain- Feingold bill is what it does to outside groups. That's the constitutional problem that's of the gravest concern. An effort to try to prevent groups from commenting on politicians in proximity to an election I think has virtually no chance of being upheld. In fact, the Snowe-Jeffords language that's in the bill, that exact language was already struck down by the Second Circuit a year and a half ago.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, it sounds as if you have Senator Lott, Senator McConnell ready to support Chuck Hagel, by all accounts a good friend of Senator McCain, a moderate Republican. If that's the best that the Senate can do, are you ready to go along with Senator Hagel, as well, if McCain-Feingold is going to go down?

DODD: Well, I think we can do a lot better. I think there are more than 50 votes for the McCain-Feingold legislation. And I don't think we need to go to Chuck Hagel's route. I respect what he's trying to do, but I disagree with it, both in the soft money area as well as in the hard-dollar limitations.

You know, it's only in American politics would you consider free speech a shield in the sense. I mean, this is an oxymoron, there's nothing free about the speech today. It belongs to those who can afford it.

And the idea that we're going to raise these hard-dollar limits to $75,000 under the Hagel proposal, per year, with an inflation factor built in. I mean, what we're talking about here -- who can give $75,000 a year to politicians?

It seems to me a $1,000 limit, a modest increase there, maybe $500 or so, would be permissible. But to go to $3,000, in effect $6,000, a husband and wife. That's $12,000. The $75,000 overall per year is just excessive, and I think we ought to reject it.

BLITZER: Well, I want to get Senator McConnell to respond, and I want you to take a look at your response. Look at this chart that we want to put up on our screen to show perhaps why a lot of Democrats are concerned about raising the so-called hard money, federal money limits.

Look at this chart. It shows you that, as far as soft money is concerned, the unregulated sums that go to political parties from unions, corporations, both parties raise -- the bottom part of the screen, the dark red -- about the same amount in the last election cycle, $243, 244 million.

But take a look, as far as hard money is concerned, the Republicans raised so much more, $447 million total, as opposed to $270 million. They raise a lot more in that money. That's why a lot of Democrats are reluctant to increase the level of that so-called hard money.

MCCONNELL: Well, who does the best in a given cycle changes from time to time, so let's talk about the principle rather than who's advantaged. What Hagel does in his bill is simply provide an inflation adjustment for the limits that the court upheld 26 years ago.

At the rate we're going, pretty soon the money's going to be virtually worthless. The $1,000 contribution limit was set at a time, Wolf, when a Mustang cost $2,700. It has never been adjusted. The annual amount that an individual can give to all federal candidates was set at $25,000 26 years ago, never adjusted. All Hagel is doing is simply providing an inflation adjustment. It's no more money today than it was in the '70s.

BLITZER: Well, what about that specific point, Senator Dodd? It's merely an adjustment for inflation between 1974 and 2001.

DODD: Well, let me just -- you know, we normally have inflation adjustments for people on Social Security and Medicare because of the cost of food and renting apartments. The idea we're going to have an inflation adjuster for the wealthiest Americans who are writing checks for $1,000 per candidate is ludicrous, to allow them to buy more influence.

Now, remember, we're talking about less than 1 percent of the American public who can afford to write a check for a $1,000 up to $25,000 a year. They want to raise it to $75,000 a year per individual, a family, a husband and wife, that's $150,000.

Now, to make a case this that somehow this is too little to -- they need help with inflation adjustments here is, I find, just absurd. And the fact -- the danger is you've gone too far. It's already...

MCCONNELL: Chris, what is absurd...

DODD: Campaigns are getting totally out of hand. Totally out of hand.

MCCONNELL: Chris, what is absurd is your unwillingness to recognize that we have to live in 2001 dollars, not 1974 dollars.

DODD: No, we don't. Now, we did the other day... MCCONNELL: Listen, the candidates have to be able to get their message across. You and I both know, as chairman of our party committees in the past, that we have to buy television time. It's very, very expensive.

DODD: Well, the other day we lowered the unit rate, now cost, which was getting way out of hand. And it seems to be encouraging the media to provide more free time for candidates. Where does this end? When does this stop?

MCCONNELL: Well, we're talking about the ability...

DODD: Today we're talking about millions and millions of dollars being spent on politics in this country, and people are getting sick of it. And need to do something to put the brakes on to slow this down.

MCCONNELL: OK. Can I respond? He had an earlier segment that I didn't have.

BLITZER: Please, go ahead.

MCCONNELL: We are spending as much on politics as we did on potato chips last year. We are not spending excessive amount of money on politics. We need to be able to get our message across. It's not just the media in this country that gets to speak unfettered. So do candidates and so do parties.

And the proposals that Chris and his allies are advocating are gradually quieting the voices of campaigns. The failure to index hard money is the reason for the rise in soft money. The failure to index hard money is the reason so many outside groups, and now political parties as well, need to be able to get their message across. That's the reason for the advance in soft money.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, some Democrats, like Senator John Breaux, your colleague from Louisiana, and some loyal Democratic constituencies like the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, are now suggesting McCain- Feingold is not necessarily the right thing to do for a variety of reasons, one of the issues being First Amendment free speech protection.

And there is an issue here which sounds technical, the non- severability clause, which suggests that some members want to say that if any part of whatever legislation emerges is declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the whole piece of legislation is null and void. Are you ready to go along with that, assuming there is some sort of package deal that's put together?

DODD: No, I'm not. And Mitch will give you the argument on the other side, and there is an argument to be made for it. We have in the past provided non-severability language to bills. I've been over this over the last couple of days. And in the last 12 years, I can find 10 pieces of legislation out of the hundreds we've passed that has non-severability language in it. But I think that would be a mistake here. This bill has many good parts to it, McCain-Feingold does. And the fact that one brick or two bricks are unconstitutional doesn't mean the entire structure ought to come down. You go back and fix that or try to fix it if you can.

DODD: So, I don't think we ought to have a non-severability clause here. That would endanger all of the good efforts that John McCain and Russ Feingold and those of us who have supported them over the past several years have done to put us in the position we are today.

MCCONNELL: If I could quickly respond? The last three campaign finance bills that have passed the Senate have had non-severability clauses in them. You voted for all three of them, Chris. I don't know why non-severability in a bill fraught with constitutional implications was OK in the late '80s and early '90s and is not OK today.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Dodd?

DODD: Well, this is a sweeping reform. We're talking about the first time since 1974, we're dealing with the issues that have emerged, the soft money problems, the issue-based ads that have been creeping the country.

MCCONNELL: All of those issues were in the '92 bill that had a non-severability clause that you voted for, and the one before that and the one before that that you voted for.

DODD: Well, and the danger is you pull down the entire effort, and I don't think that most members want to do that. I think the non- severability...

MCCONNELL: But the reformers at that time, Chris, the reformers at that time thought it was necessary to be sure the bill was constitutional.

DODD: All right, but the point is here, Mitch, is that if we put that language in, I don't think we will, I don't think the votes are there for it. I think the Senate will reject non-severability.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about including your phone calls for Senators Mitch McConnell and Christopher Dodd. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation with Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

You just saw the poll, we put it up on our screen. "Is there a constitutional right to contribute money to parties?", in the CNN-Time magazine poll. Yes, 44 percent. But, Senator McConnell, 51 percent say they don't think there is a constitutional right here to contribute money to the political parties.

MCCONNELL: Well, fortunately, we don't subject the Bill of Rights to the public opinion polls.


The Supreme Court has held that you do have a constitutional right to contribute to the candidate of your choice and that money is an indispensable element in having effective speech. I mean, no one would see CNN if there were not a big company behind it providing the money to amplify your voice, Wolf. So it is essential.

BLITZER: Let me ask you this question, Senator Dodd. The second week is coming up of this debate. Is there going to be resolution this week, or is it going to be left up in the air as it has been in the past?

DODD: Well, we had a pretty good first week. Despite sparks flying here a little bit, Mitch McConnell and I get along very, very well. And I think we've handled the bill well this past week. And I'm confident if we debate the outstanding amendments, there is a very good chance of us arriving at a bill at the end of the week.

Let me come back to your point, though. I don't disagree with Mitch at all about the constitutionality of people supporting candidates. My concern and fear here is not just about the amount of money that's coming into politics and how only fewer and fewer affluent people can contribute. One of the wonderful things about this country is in the past we have sought the financial support of small people, the $10, the $25, the $50, $100 contributor.

My fear, as a practical matter, is you raise these limits of hard money to $3,000, in effect, $12,000, senators, or those who want to be in the Senate, are not going to bother with the smaller people in this country. They are only going to spend time trying to get the money from those who can write the big checks. And I'm very worried about that.

BLITZER: Isn't that...

DODD: It undercuts this country terribly.

BLITZER: Isn't that the case right now, Senator McConnell.

MCCONNELL: We have a growing number of people participating in politics. The average soft money contribution last year to the Republican Senatorial Committee was $560. I mean, there is a growing number of people who participate. A lot of Americans don't, I wish they did. I wish we hadn't gotten rid of the $100 tax deduction that we had back before 1986. It would be great if more people participated.

DODD: And we also just had... BLITZER: Senator McConnell, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia, sent a letter to members of the Senate this week in effect saying he's opposed to any ban on so-called soft money because it's going to hurt the Republican Party. It's going to hurt the entire political process. I asked him about this Friday night. Listen to what Governor Gilmore had to say.


GOV. JIM GILMORE (R), VIRGINIA: What I thought that was important on behalf of the Republican Party of the United States was to let the senators know that we're very concerned about certain aspects of a soft money ban right off the bat that would not have any appropriate limitations on it or something that wouldn't have any real hard money opportunities to be raised either.


BLITZER: You know, this is a case where the chairman of the Republican Party disagrees with the president of the United States, who is also a Republican. Although, a lot of Democrats say they don't think there is really a disagreement. They think Gilmore is really representing the views of the president.

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm sure Gilmore is representing Gilmore's views. And he's absolutely right. There is nothing inherently inappropriate about non-federal money. That's how people run for governor in various states. Governor Gilmore is pointing out what it would do the Republican National Committee, and for that matter, the Democratic National Committee.

It's an absurd proposal that would require every officer in America running in even-numbered years, whether it's state legislature or governor, to operate in federal hard dollars. It's an absurd proposal.

BLITZER: Let's take a quick call. Caller from New York, please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Yes, I wanted to ask Senator McConnell, if money equals free speech, then how can people without money -- they don't have free speech then?

MCCONNELL: Well, what the Supreme Court said, and the American Civil Liberties Union, by the way, also agrees with this, that in order to have effective speech, you have to have the opportunity to pool your resources. If you're not wealthy, you pool your resources with others and your favorite organization and you go out and express yourself.

You have to be able to spend money in order to amplify your voice. Otherwise, you could talk to your neighbors, but you wouldn't have really effective speech. So that's at the core of this debate.

Admittedly, wealthy people have advantages. They have advantages in all kinds of ways. But people who are not very wealthy have the opportunity to pool their resources and get their message out, as well.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, as you well know, if legislation does pass in the Senate, it still has to pass the House of Representatives in order for it to reach the president's desk.

Tom DeLay was on "Meet the Press" earlier today, the House majority whip. He had this exchange with the moderator, Tim Russert. Listen to this.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS: If it passes the Senate, will you block it in the House?

REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: You bet I will. I'll do everything I can to protect the freedom of the American people. You bet. You bet. I'll work as hard as I can to beat this.



BLITZER: It has passed, as you know, Senator Dodd, in the House before. But is it a sure thing that it's going to pass the House of Representatives with that kind of opposition from from Tom DeLay, who's known as "the Hammer"?

DODD: Well, already, the -- Chris Shays of Connecticut and Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts have done a good job in having the Shays-Meehan bill passed the House. I'm confident they can.

You know, one element we haven't talked about here, Wolf, is the fact that for the last almost 25 years we've had public financing of presidential races. President Reagan, President Bush, the present occupant of the White House have all lived with limitations on presidential races.

One thing we ought to be talking about in this debate -- we haven't had much conversation -- is the idea of having a mix of public and private financing of campaigns to try and keep the lid on the cost here. It's worked very well at the presidential level. It's kept the costs down. We ought to be considering that as an option here, giving, again, average citiZens like the last caller a greater say in the political life of this country, rather than telling him he's got to go out and pool his resources to compete with the most affluent members of our society.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Senator McConnell, I know you're dying to get into this discussion, but we have to leave it right there. We are all out of time.

Thank you so much, Senator McConnell.

Senator Dodd, thank you very much, as well.

DODD: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, critics are accusing the Bush administration of sacrificing the environment for big business. We'll talk about that and much more with the president's environmental chief, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, when LATE EDITION returns.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Environmental groups are criticizing President Bush for recent reversals of last minute environmental orders by the Clinton administration. Joining us now in her first LATE EDITION interview as head of the Environmental Protection Agency is Christine Todd Whitman.

Governor Whitman, of course, welcome back to LATE EDITION. You used to be governor of New Jersey and now you're the administrator of the EPA. Thanks for joining us.

The most recent controversy in recent days has been the decision to reverse the issue of arsenic levels in water. The Clinton administration, as it was leaving, said it should go down from 50 parts per billion down to 10 parts per billion, and they cited the National Academy of Science, which in 1999 said, "New information on arsenic exposure and cancer indicate the EPA's current standard for acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water does not sufficiently protect public health."

If that's the case of the National Academy of Science, why is the Bush administration reversing it and going back to the higher levels of arsenic?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, understand that we're not. What we did is we asked for a delay in the implementation, and we are looking to have the potential in the future of pulling back. We could make it five parts per billion or it could be 15. The National Academy of Science didn't say that 10 was the right level.

But the point here, today's water quality is the same as it's been for the last 50 years and will be the same for the next year, because this rule would not have gone into effect until 2006. We will have a new standard by 2006. It will be well below 50 parts per billion.

The problem was that, when they pushed through the rule at the end, they didn't allow enough time for the full economic study. And the burden of this, because arsenic is a naturally occurring substance, falls in particularly in the West with small- and mid-sized water companies.

What we have seen in the past is very often those water companies, the cost of implementation of new standards is such that often they close down, forcing people to drill their own wells, and then they end up with water that's more polluted, or they raise the cost to the point that people can't afford it.

We just need to have a full understanding of what is part of this decision, what the ramifications of the decision are. But we haven't changed the standards. They're 50 parts per billion. The reg would not have gone into effect for water companies until 2006. We will have new standards by 2006. They'll be well below 50.

BLITZER: And when do you think the new standards will be announced by the EPA?

WHITMAN: Well, I'd like to do it, obviously, as soon as possible, but we want to make sure that we've done the full process, so it will be at least six months.

But interestingly enough, EPA regulations usually they're three times from the time the regulation is finalized to implementation. In this instance, they gave the water companies five years. So technically there are two years here that we could play with, but we want to get it done far before that.

BLITZER: And it will be well below 50.

WHITMAN: It will be well below 50.

BLITZER: Closer to 10?

WHITMAN: Well, anywhere from five. I mean, there are some who argue it should be three, some say five, some say 10, some say 20.

But we need to really understand the balance of the economic implications of this decision relative to the water, since there's no definitive scientific study that says this is the magic level.

BLITZER: On another issue, of course, that you've come under a lot of fire on, not necessarily you personally, but the president has come under a lot of fire, was the whole issue of carbon dioxide, emissions from electrical power plants.

During the campaign, as you well know, the president supported reducing carbon dioxide emissions in a speech in Saginaw, Michigan. When you first were sworn in, you became the administrator. You made that clear that you supported it as well, what the president had said. You can't blame yourself for supporting what the president said.

In fact on February 26, you were on CNN on "CROSSFIRE." I want you to listen to what you said.


WHITMAN: 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.


BLITZER: Then he, of course, reversed the decision less than two weeks ago. Did he pull the rug out from under you?

WHITMAN: No, we were part of that decision. We were working with the White House for the week leading up to it.

And don't forget what the president said, and he still supports and did in that letter to the Hill. He still recognizes a global climate change as something that's real, and we need to work with our allies around the world on the issue. And he still supports a multi- pollutant bill, but not including mandatory caps on CO2.

And he made that decision for two reasons. One, because as we started looking at -- and I'm part of that energy task force that's chaired by the vice president. We are going to need to have a multi- energy strategy here. And so people are making decisions today as to whether or not to invest in clean coal technology.

WHITMAN: If they hear that there are going to be mandatory CO2 caps, they might not make those decisions, and we need them to be making those decisions.

The other part of it, we can still get a multi-pollutant bill that has NOX, SO2 and mercury through on Capitol Hill. And we will have done more than any other administration, if we get that, toward cleaning up our emissions on global climate change.

BLITZER: So are you ready to give up on carbon dioxide?

WHITMAN: Well, there are a lot of things we're doing voluntarily on carbon dioxide, and that's what we need to keep doing.

BLITZER: Is there any question in your mind and in the president's mind on the science of global warming? Because, as you well know, some Republicans say that the jury is still out, that it's not clear that these kinds of pollutants do cause global warming.

WHITMAN: Well, I would think it would be -- you know, I can't speak for the president obviously on this, but it's...

BLITZER: But you're his chief environmental adviser.

WHITMAN: But I can tell you where we are from the environmental- agency perspective, is we believe that global climate change is real. There are those who don't believe -- they know that there's something happening with the environment. There's the argument, well, how much is man contributing to this?

That's what the president wants to know. How much is man contributing to this? Where are we contributing? And what steps can we take that'll really make a difference? And he has asked us to continue to look into that, and we will do that.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt in your mind, as far as the science of global warming?

WHITMAN: I think the science is pretty clear that there is global climate change taking place. BLITZER: All right, Governor Whitman, we have a lot more to talk about. We have to take a quick break.

For our international viewers, World News is next. For our North American audience, stay with us for the second hour of LATE EDITION. We'll check the hour's top stories and continue our conversation with EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Then, three guests offer their perspective on the U.S. economy and shaky markets. Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's Last Word. It's all ahead in the second hour of LATE EDITION.


BLITZER: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.

The stock market endures another roller coaster week, and President Bush hopes his tax cut will finally rally the economy.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Which means when we give people their money back, it should serve as a stimulus to economic growth.


BLITZER: We'll take your phone calls for three economic experts: former Federal Reserve Governor Wayne Angell, former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin, and former Reagan budget director Jim Miller.

Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Christopher Caldwell. And Bruce Morton has the last word on the ups and downs of the space station Mir.

Welcome back. We'll continue our conversation with EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman in just a moment, but first let's go to Brian Nelson in Atlanta for a check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Now back to our conversation with EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Governor Whitman, another issue involving the environment, which the administration is facing a lot of criticism, is the potential drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; it's called ANWR. A million and a half acres, potentially. A lot of environmentalists say this is going to potentially destroy some pristine areas, it's just not worth it to take the chance and go ahead and drill. Do you support the decision to go ahead and drill up there?

WHITMAN: Well actually, the interesting thing is the decision can't be made without the support of Congress. The administration can't determine...

BLITZER: Should Congress support that decision?

WHITMAN: This is something they're going to have to look at, given what we're hearing is up there and available. And first of all, understand that it is 19 million acres and it's about -- 19 million acres being almost the size of Connecticut, versus 2 million acres where the drilling would occur which is about half of the size of Dulles Airport, just to put it in perspective. With enough oil to supplement for 30 years what we're getting from Kuwait, the same amount as what we're getting from Kuwait, that's what they think is there.

But the determination's going to have to be made on what kind of a balance of energy do we want. How reliable do we want our energy in this country? And do we want to keep bringing it by tanker from Kuwait, where as we know what happened up in Alaska was from a tanker spill? We have a lot of those.

We've have a lot of decisions we've got to make that Congress has got to come in line with if they want to determine that that's feasible.

BLITZER: Congress is going to ask the EPA. What does the EPA think? Is this good to go ahead and drill up there for oil and natural gas?

WHITMAN: Again, this is going to be a decision made by the -- the White House will make the decision. And I'm part of the energy task force, and we're looking at a mix of energy.

Our responsibility, if this does go through, will be to ensure that there is minimal environmental damage if any environmental damage. That's where we're going to come in. Not really in the decision as to whether or not to drill, because that's Energy's decision and the task force decision. Our responsibility here is to keep the environment clean.

BLITZER: But you know, I'm pressing you, because the president is on record in supporting drilling up in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Throughout the campaign he said this was a good idea, so he's apparently made up his mind already.

WHITMAN: Well, he's looking for the recommendation that's going to come out of the energy task force, again, of which I'm a part. And obviously my part in that is to talk about the environment and the importance of ensuring that we go forward with a clean environment.

BLITZER: There's another decision that is being made by the administration involving construction and logging, a decision in the Clinton administration to ban road construction in certain areas that would achieve logging and what they say would be a third of all federal forest land. A lot of environmentalists think this is also an area of potential danger to the environment.

WHITMAN: Now, this is not one that I have anything to do with. This is really the Department of Interior. And we haven't been asked for any kind of input, and I would say that I am not up to snuff on that particular decision.

BLITZER: But that's an area where eventually EPA would probably have to offer some recommendations?

WHITMAN: We would, probably. If they really decide to go forward, I would assume that an environmental impact statement would be required. And again, we would do it based on the environment and what we can support and sustain.

It's interesting, we really have a lot of decisions to make relative to the environment and our quality of life and the way we live our lives in this country we haven't even begun to grapple with.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone knows you have a very tough job. Probably tougher than you thought it was going to be when you gave up the governorship of New Jersey to become the administrator of the EPA. The Philadelphia Enquirer has an article this morning, and I want to read to you an excerpt from that article. It's some tough, tough words.

It says this: "Whitman's decision Tuesday to reverse a last minute Clinton administration rule to tighten controls on arsenic pollution of the nation's water supplies was a bitter setback for environmental groups that had lobbied for the tougher policy. It has triggered speculation that EPA policy now is set by the White House, not by Whitman."

WHITMAN: You know, the interesting thing is, there were two decisions made on the day we did on the arsenic. One had to do with the National Resource Defense Council suit, which, by the way, they told me when I first took over was the single litmus test to determine whether the administration was going to be good on the environment or not. We decided in their favor. You didn't hear anything about it.

But when we took those two things to the White House, the decisions, the one they pushed back on was the arsenic. They said, "Why are you doing the arsenic?" They didn't force me to do arsenic. In fact, that was my decision after sitting with my staff for hour and a half to two hours going over every step that was taken toward making that decision in the first place by the former administration.

It was a last-minute thing that was pushed through. Not the science, we know that they have been studying the science for a long time. But there was not the public comment period that needed to be made. We did not have the full story about what the impact of this is going to be, and is this the right way to do it? Do we need funding mechanism for small- and mid-sized water companies so they don't walk away and leave people with no source of water?

I mean, there are a lot of things we need to decide, particularly given that there is no magic standard. We know it needs to be less than 50 parts per billion, but whether it's 10, 15, five or three, that's still open for discussion. BLITZER: You know the criticism that has been leveled by critics of the administration that on these various decision involving the environment or energy, a lot of big money is at stake. And a lot of Republican contributors were behind some of these reversals in the coal industry, from the oil industry, and that the Bush administration is simply caving in to the wishes of the big-time contributors to the Republican Party.

WHITMAN: Well, you know, the interesting thing, the only decision I think I've made thus far that impacts oil was the sulfur diesel fuel. And it went against what their interests would be. Supported by the administration, stricter standards on diesel fuel, really pushing the envelope on the technology for both engines and fuel mix.

So, the trouble with this is, everybody feels passionately about the environment and the EPA, pro or con. It's not one where it's easy to understand that there is a middle ground and it's not a zero-sum game. And when we judge each one of these issues on its merits, people are looking for a signal that this means we're going to go all one way or the other. People are going to have to get used to the fact that every one of these decisions is going to be made on the individual merits.

BLITZER: You probably saw the story in yesterday's Washington Post saying Democrats are gearing up to use this issue, the environment, for fund-raising, to go after the Republicans, to go after the Bush administration.

Barbara Boxer, the Democratic senator from California, spoke out Thursday on this issue as well, signaling this new Democratic offensive. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, I spoke with him Friday night. He says he's going after the Republicans on this.

Listen to what Senator Boxer said on Thursday.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: We believe that George W. Bush has declared war on the environment. But we are here today to tell him that we will fight him in this war, regulation by regulation, legislation by legislation, standard by standard, confrontation by confrontation.


BLITZER: Is this a war?

WHITMAN: Well, they've been looking for one. I think the Democrats are very uncomfortable with the new civility and the fact that this is a much more balanced administration then they wanted to admit that it is. And that, in fact, we are speaking to the public at large.

And this was always the area, I think, where they were going to come, again, because it is such a trigger point, the environment. And the fact that they take things like the arsenic rule and are going around and saying that we are now poisoning the water and we've done away with any standard, which, is flatly untrue -- same standard that we've had for 50 years will go forward. We'll actually have a new rule in place at the same time that this rule that we're re-looking at would have been in place -- just indicates the fact that this is partisan politics now starting to run its course, which you have to expect here. And they would have come after us one way or another.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds. Any regrets about leaving New Jersey and coming to Washington?

WHITMAN: Oh, I love -- yes, my only regret is I haven't gotten back nearly enough. I've been back once in eight weeks.

BLITZER: So you're staying?

WHITMAN: I'm staying.

BLITZER: OK, Governor Whitman, thanks for joining us.

WHITMAN: It's a pleasure.

BLITZER: We hope you'll be back often in your new role as EPA administrator.

WHITMAN: Look forward to it.

BLITZER: It's a passionate issue. Thank you very much.

Up next, another jittery week on Wall Street, as worries about the U.S. economy increase. How will those money matters impact your wallet? We'll hear from former Reagan budget director Jim Miller, former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin, and Bear Stearns managing director and chief economist Wayne Angell. LATE EDITION will be right back.



BUSH: We've got some problems, some short-term problems. And if Congress were to act quickly on my tax stimulus package, it would make our recovery quicker.


BLITZER: President Bush weighing in on the current state of economy. Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We now get three perspectives on what's best to get the U.S. economy on track. Here in Washington, former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin, former Reagan budget director Jim Miller, and Wayne Angell, senior managing director of the Bear Stearns investment firm.

Welcome to all of you. And I want to begin with you, Mr. Angell. You're a former governor of the Federal Reserve. You know a lot about the economy. You know how these things work. I guess most people are asking around the country right now, have we bottomed out?

WAYNE ANGELL, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR, BEAR STEARNS: I don't think so. Our economy is in some trouble. We had a huge equity market gain, and that equity market gain covered up a huge increasing tax drag. And then monetary policy became very tight, and so monetary policies have to ease and we have to reduce marginal tax rates.

BLITZER: What about that, do you agree with that assessment, Alice Rivlin?

ALICE RIVLIN, FORMER CLINTON BUDGET DIRECTOR: No, I don't. I think our economy has slowed down a lot. It may not be growing at all at the moment, but it's not nearly as serious as Wayne would have people believe.

BLITZER: Why do you say that?

RIVLIN: I say that because this is an economy which was growing much too fast. It was growing at 5 and 6 percent for a long time. When it slows, as indeed it needed to, it seems like it's going into deep recession, but it hasn't yet. We don't have any evidence of that.

We built up a lot of inventories because people were producing ahead of what consumers were buying, but those are beginning to be cut back now especially in automobiles. And it's not as bad as Wayne said.

BLITZER: I'm going to bring Jim Miller in a second, but, Mr. Angell, what do you say to what Alice Rivlin just said?

ANGELL: Well, when capital spending, which has been the driving force of this new era economic growth of 5 percent -- when capital spending slows from a 15 percent annual rate of increase to zero, to say that that's not to worry, then I disagree.

RIVLIN: I'm not saying not to worry. We've clearly had a rapid slowdown, and a lot of it in capital spending. But consumers are still spending. Unemployment is still very low. We are still have net job growth. And I think it is likely that we'll have several slow quarters, but we will come back by the end of the year.

BLITZER: All right, let's bring Jim Miller into this discussion. Have we bottomed out yet? What do you say?

JIM MILLER, FORMER REAGAN BUDGET DIRECTOR: Well, I think probably we have. I think the problem with the economy is not that it's growing too fast, but it's growing too slowly right now. And the think the tax drag is a major reason that the economy is not going as fast.

The other is that the productivity shot that we got from the information technology revolution has sort of played out, or at least on an interim basis.

We need to get tax rates down. We need to provide the permanence and the assurance that tax rates will be lower to give people the incentive to invest in their own human capital, as well as physical capital, the kind that Wayne was talking about.

BLITZER: Let me ask Mr. Angell that question. We heard a lot of talk earlier in this program about a $60 billion tax cut or tax rebate this year retroactive. Is that going to do to the economy what you think needs to be done?

ANGELL: That's exactly the wrong way to go. We should do the president's full program retroactive to January 1. What is being proposed is going ruin the savings rate, which is already bad enough. So we've got to get tax rates down across the board to once again get saving flowing in the private sector.

BLITZER: So, that's going to do some long-term good if you go ahead with a $1.6 trillion tax cut, according to Mr. Angell.

RIVLIN: No, I don't agree with that. I think to get this economy moving again, we first need to do what the Federal Reserve is doing, that is lowering interest rates quite rapidly. And second...

BLITZER: Not rapidly enough as far as Wall Street is concerned.

RIVLIN: Well, no, but I think quite rapidly.

But second, if we need to stimulate the economy further, we should have a tax cut that actually reaches the people who spend, not the people who save, and worry about them later. But we need to get money out to people in the lower half of the income distribution, and the Bush plan does nothing for that. It affects mainly people at the high end of the income distribution and much later. Those cuts come into effect in four or five years, when we aren't going to need them.

BLITZER: What about that, Jim Miller?

MILLER: Well, I think we can be too caught up in having either the Congress and the president, on the one hand, or the Federal Reserve, on the other hand, fine-tuning the economy. These are two institutions that I think their major responsibility is to have low tax rates and an environment for economic growth on the part of the Congress and the president, and on the Federal Reserve to have sound money. And going about these changes I don't think really enhanced things and could actually make matters worse.

I think we need a tax cut, a substantial tax cut, one that's permanent, one without triggers. And I think the Federal Reserve needs to have a growth in the money supply and growth in the money base that is consistent with our long-term potential supply, economic growth.

BLITZER: Did Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve make a major mistake last week when they cut interest rates by half a point instead of more, as Wall Street would have liked? ANGELL: It was a mistake. Whenever the Federal Reserve -- and we've had five occasions since December 19. When the Federal Reserve disappoints, it's like they've raised interest rates. We've had only one occasion, January 3, that the Federal Reserve lowered rates more than anticipated.

BLITZER: That was a total surprise, though?

ANGELL: Well, and it worked marvelously. It worked for two weeks, until the question was: Will they do 75 on January 31? And then the Fed said, "No, we think maybe we've got conditions improving in January," and so they took their eye off of consumer sentiment and business attitudes and capital spending, and say, "Well, we had a little rebound in January." No, the Federal Reserve has made some mistakes.

BLITZER: What about that, Alice Rivlin? Three interest rate cuts this year alone, in three months, but obviously not enough to satisfy Wall Street?

RIVLIN: Not to satisfy Wall Street or Wayne Angell, but I think they are doing the right thing. What the...

BLITZER: Tell us why.

RIVLIN: What the Federal Reserve should focus on is not reassuring Wall Street, which had an overvalued stock market because people forgot that stocks had something to do with earnings. What the Federal Reserve should do is keep the economy on the track. And lowering interest rates by half a percent three times since January is a deliberate policy to get the interest rates down, which will help people spend more. And I expect they'll do it again. I would not be surprised.

BLITZER: On that point, Jim Miller, the Federal Reserve, not just recently, but over the years has kept inflation down, which was of course a nightmare in the Jimmy Carter administration when inflation was double-digit. They've kept unemployment down. So the track record for Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve in recent years has been pretty good.

MILLER: Oh, it has been good, and Wayne and Alice both take some credit for that. But the inflation rates have risen just a bit.

I'd like to agree and disagree with Dr. Rivlin's point. I agree with her that I think the Fed did the right thing in lowering it only half a percent, rather than three-quarters of a percent.

But let's not get too taken up with the notion that the Federal Reserve sets interest rates. They don't; they follow the market.

Art Laffer had a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier in the week that really made the point quite well. Don't pay too much attention to the Federal funds rate. It's more psychological, I think you would agree.

ANGELL: No, I would not.

MILLER: No, you would not?


BLITZER: Tell us why.

ANGELL: Well, because two-year treasury yields have fallen twice as far as the Fed has moved the funds rate down. So the two-year treasury is down 300 basis point, the rate of return on capital is plunging, so the Federal Reserve remains behind the curve.

Now, I agree with Alice that the Fed's job is the economy, not the stock market. But the Fed is holding interest rates higher than market forces would have it, and that means we're getting deflation signals out of commodity-price-leading indicators.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including your phone calls for Jim Miller, Alice Rivlin and Wayne Angell. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin, former Reagan budget director Jim Miller, and Bear Stearns' chief economist, Wayne Angell.

And we have a caller from Georgia. Please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Wolf.

Mr. Miller, with the stock market down, would not a cut in the capital gains tax rate from 20 to 15 percent retroactive to January 1, would that not energize both the stock market and the economy?

MILLER: I think you're correct. I think it would. And I think probably it would realize more revenue to the federal government than just leaving it where it is.

BLITZER: What about that, a cut in the capital gains? If not immediately in the $1.6 trillion package that the president has put forward.

RIVLIN: No. And it certainly isn't a very effective way to stimulate the economy. It might stimulate the stock market. But again, capital gains go to largely people at the high end of the income distribution. To stimulate the economy, you want to get it into the hands of average working people who will spend it.

BLITZER: Is that a good idea now to cut capital gains, Mr. Angell?

ANGELL: It's always a good idea to reduce the tax drag on investment decisions. I mean, more investment means more labor productivity and higher real wages. They've gained a lot. BLITZER: All right. Let's take another caller, this time from New York. Please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Wolf, for taking my question. Basically, I wanted to ask you about President Bush's role in the so- called perceived recession that we're going through right now. The only solution he seems to be proposing is a tax cut. But in hopes of getting that passed, he seems to be talking down the economy. I want the panel to answer this and say do they think that this is hurting us? Or is this good, even though he's doing it for the sake of passing his tax cut?

BLITZER: All right. That's a very good question. In fact, we have a new CNN-"TIME" magazine poll. Let's put it up on the screen, if we can.

"The Bush remarks on a potential recession, are they affecting the economy?" Take a look a this, 58 percent say yes, the Bush comments are effecting the economy; 38 percent say no.

What about that, Jim Miller?

MILLER: Well, I think he's getting a bum rap. I don't think he is exploiting the economy to get his tax cut passed. But I think he's got to be honest and be straightforward about the current economic situation. And imagine if he were to say that there is no problem out there, that everything's hunky-dory. You remember his dad was criticized for not being engaged. People would say he's not engaged.

BLITZER: Alice Rivlin, the president has pointed out, his supporters have pointed out that he's telling the truth to the American people. What's wrong with that?

RIVLIN: Well, I think he can't say everything's fine, it isn't. The economy has slowed down a lot. But he and his team have been talking recession when we haven't seen recession yet.

And more important, they don't have a tax cut that is a response to a recession. They have one that is a long-term tax break for people who make a lot of money.

BLITZER: Mr. Angell, do the vice president's comments -- remember, early on he said that the U.S. may be on the front edge of a recession. Do those comments really make a difference?

ANGELL: He's doing exactly what he should do and be honest and straightforward. And it is the worst political spin that I have ever heard of for anyone to suggest otherwise. The president is not causing this economy to slow. This economy began slowing last summer. It's high tax rates. Personal income taxes have been growing twice as fast as personal income. And now the personal disposable income is negative over the last four months. The president can't be blamed for saying accurately what the economy is.

BLITZER: Well, if President Bush can't be blamed, some on the Republican side are blaming President Clinton for not acting more aggressively early on. A lot of people are blaming Alan Greenspan, but that's another matter. Does the Clinton administration deserve some blame for this?

MILLER: Well, it deserves some credit and some blame, I guess. But look, what we've had during the last two decade is an enormous expansion in the economy. And the last decade, because of the information technology revolution raising productivity, it masked a lot of bad decisions, including to increase tax rates. That's sort of coming to an end and now the fiscal drag really is holding us back, and we need to reduce that.

BLITZER: Alice Rivlin, you're going to have the last word. The economy seemed to be humming, it seemed to be great for all of the years of the Clinton administration, basically, to the president's political help. What happened?

RIVLIN: It was great. And it was great at the same time we had the same tax rates we do now. So, I don't believe the tax drag theory.

But we do have a business cycle. After a certain number of years, people have bought all the things they need and production has gotten ahead of consumption. And what we're having now is a correction, a correction in the stock market and a correction of inventories and other things that got up built up too quickly because people got ahead of the game.

BLITZER: We could spend a lot more time talking about this, and we will on another occasion. Unfortunately, we're all out of time right now.

Thanks for joining us, Alice Rivlin, Wayne Angell, Jim Miller, always great to have you on the program. Thank you very much.

And just ahead, who's winning the fight over campaign finance reform? We'll go 'round the table on that and much more with Roberts, Page and Caldwell when LATE EDITION returns.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for our LATE EDITION roundtable.

Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Steve Roberts, contributing editor for U.S. News and World Report, and pinch-hitting for David Brooks this week, Christopher Caldwell, senior writer for the Weekly Standard and a panelist for CNN's new program "Take Five," which airs every Saturday night, 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks for joining us, Chris. Good to have you on our show.

But I want to begin with you, Steve. All this talk about tax cuts. We heard Senator Lott talk about it, Senator Daschle. $60 billion perhaps retroactive immediately this year. Where is all this heading? STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I do think there will be a tax cut, and I do think it will put money into people's pockets directly.

You know, if you're going to argue that the real reason for a tax cut is to stimulate the economy, the Bush plan was not going to do it. And they realized that, and the Democrats have jumped on it. They want a quick tax cut and try to hold off the longer-range one. That's their strategy, to sort of draw the steam out of the tax-cutting drive. The Republicans want to attach it.

One way or another, there will be a tax cut. People will have more money to spend some time in the next couple of months.

BLITZER: What about that, Christopher? You heard Senator Lott say, if they don't include it as part of the overall package, the immediate tax cut, the Democrats are going to find a way to have no more tax cuts, just this little tax cut, relatively speaking, this year?

CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": That's right. The Democrats want the snack that will take away the appetite for dinner.

And I think Steve got it exactly right. You know, what Bush did that was very smart was to announce this as an across-the-board tax cut. Then he made another smart move in changing his rationale, saying he wanted to get more money into people's pockets.

But once he said that, he gave the Democrats an opening, and now they're out front on this issue, at least on the issue of short-term tax cuts.

BLITZER: Smart politics for the Democrats?

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think they finally feel they've kind of laid a little trap for the Republicans. And it's one that may be hard to negotiate, because it's actually an argument that you can make that seems to make sense, right? You address the need to get some money in the economy, to jump-start it a little bit. But you don't buy into all the troubles that you could have down the road, with the argument that you're spending too much of the surplus.

I mean, this is a deal the White House will not accept. They will not take a short-term tax cut that doesn't include long-term rate reductions, because their real goal, the president's fundamental goal from last year has been to reduce those rates.

ROBERTS: Chris, the other problem is, given the fact that Bush has gone back and forth on three or four different rationales for this cut, the other rationale that he's argued is this was going to help his tax families, you know, people, $30,000, $40,000. That rationale makes absolutely no sense when it comes to the richer people, in terms of the estate tax or cutting the rates from 39 to 33 percent.

So, that's the other vulnerability that Bush has, because if you are arguing people need this, it's going to help their families, fine for the $40,000, not for the $400,000.

CALDWELL: And it calls into question the whole deficit projection, which I think Democrats are going to seek to reopen. It's tough to tell on what terms. But you'll have to relook at the percentages that Bush is talking about.

BLITZER: You know, Christopher, last week your colleague from the Weekly Standard, our regular roundtable panelist David Brooks, pointed out what we all know, but he was among the first to point it out that the Bush $1.6 trillion tax cut plan, 10 years, came out a year and a half, almost two years ago, at a time when the economy was a lot better than it is right now. And they have to step back and take a whole new look at it, given the changing economic circumstances.

CALDWELL: And they can do that. They might be willing to negotiate on things like triggers, which Democrats like to talk about, especially since these tax deals always get renegotiated two years, three years out. It's not fatal to Bush's plan.

BLITZER: To even include triggers, even though they say they don't like those triggers?

CALDWELL: That's right. That's right.

PAGE: You know, I'm not sure that's...

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what triggers are.

PAGE: Well, triggers would be if you don't have as much money as you thought you had to spend on tax cuts, maybe the tax cuts would then not take effect, some of the ones in later years.


PAGE: I actually do think that's a killer for the White House. I think they're now trying -- I think the president started a little more conciliatory about it this week, when he was up in Maine wooing two moderate Republican senators there.

But I think the White House will end up taking a very hard line against triggers, with the argument that one of the economic benefits of a tax cut is that people can count on it.

PAGE: If you put in triggers that means people can't count on it, and it undercuts some of the good economic effects you expect to get from the tax cut.

BLITZER: A week ago Karl Rove was quoted in Time Magazine as saying triggers, you know, not fully implementing all the tax cuts if the surpluses as projected don't materialize, is a non-starter as far as the White House is concerned. But we're hearing different things during the course of the week.

ROBERTS: That's right, and the real reason for this is they need the votes. They need the votes of those two senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of whom favor triggers. There's 50-50 Senate, and he does not have the votes for his own tax plan. And if it's a question of getting the tax plan with a trigger, I think in the end he's going to take it. That get's him the extra Republican votes.

I think a trigger is largely a phony idea, because it's hard to imagine it actually being put into effect. That people, you know, somehow are going to cancel a tax cut politically, woudl be very hard to do. But if it's a face-saving device they need to get those Republican votes, I think in the end he'll take it.

BLITZER: Is there other room for compromise, Christopher, on the issue of the top tax rate going down from 39.6 percent, which is currently the level. The president says no American should pay more than a third of his or her income to the federal government, going down to 33 percent. Although you're hearing some people say 35 or 36 percent might be more do-able in this 50-50 Senate.

CALDWELL: Well, there's certainly a lot of room, because that's where a lot of the tax cuts are going. But I think from what I hear from Republicans, an area where they'd be more willing to compromise would be the estate tax cuts, which hit roughly the same bracket and don't muddy the message of the 33 percent. It's an arbitrary figure, but I think they do like it as a selling point.

BLITZER: As far as the estate tax is concerned, if you were to raise the limit from what it currently is to about $5 or $6 or even $10 million, you would still save a lot of money, because there certain small number of individuals who are billionaires who would still have to pay that estate tax.

PAGE: And, you know, they're not the most sympathetic figures when you're having a tax cut debate to say, you know, multi- billionaires, you really want to protect them with eliminating the estate tax.

BLITZER: It seems that some of those billionaires don't even want to have the estate tax.

ROBERTS: And also, look, the oldest political argument in this city for probably a couple of hundred years has been: Republicans are the party of the rich, Democrats are the party for the working man.

Now, one of the reasons why Republicans have done well in the last 20 years or 30 years, is because a lot of those working people no longer identify with the Democratic Party, no longer see the need for the federal programs in the past. They see themselves at least, if not rich, than as potentially rich.

But having said that, it's still a vulnerability for the Republicans. If the Democrats can drag out their oldest argument. You know, they're the party of the rich. If the Republicans can cut back on the estate tax, that defuses that Democratic argument.

BLITZER: All right, enough on taxes. We have a lot more to talk about. We have to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll go 'round the table with our roundtable panelists including discussion of the loss of a journalistic friend and colleague. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable.

There's been a lot of speculation in recent days, including the front page of the New York Times today, about relations, the tensions that may or may not exist between President Bush and Senator John McCain. President Bush was asked about it after returning to the White House this morning from a jog. Listen to what he had to say.


QUESTION: Do you really have a big battle going with Senator McCain?

BUSH: Not at all. Who reported that?

QUESTION: That would be in the Times today.

BUSH: No, I'll have to read that. I don't know what they -- not at all. John McCain and I are friends. We're not going to agree 100 percent of the time, but we're going to agree a lot more than we disagree.


BLITZER: They disagree, Christopher, on a lot of issues, not only campaign finance reform, the patient's bill of rights, tax cuts, gun control. But they're good friends.

CALDWELL: That's right. You would have thought after the last election that if there were any electoral revanchism it would come from Al Gore. It seems to be coming from McCain, or more accurately, from the McCain movement.

I think what's worrisome to Bush and to a lot of Republicans is the prospect of an independent run in 2004. But you see McCain building up a big legislative record, which is not something he's really gone in for much before, on health care, campaign finance. This is a guy whose big ideological interest used to be running National Airport, you know.

PAGE: You know, it's interesting, though. This morning on another of the Sunday morning shows, McCain said he would not challenge Bush in four years, said he would not run as an independent, which is an important concession on his part.

And I don't know what the relations between these two men are, but I know what the relations are between their staff. And their staffs have a lot of suspicion, a lot of wounds from the battles last year in the primaries. It's sort of like, you know, Civil War combatants about six months after the end of the Civil War.

BLITZER: Steve, you've seen these kinds of tense relationships between politicians of the same party before.

ROBERTS: Well, I think that -- two things about McCain. One is, while he might say he's not going to run in four years, presidentialitus is an incurable disease. And there was a moment there when John McCain really thought he might be president, you know, for a couple of days after New Hampshire.

And he's loving the spotlight -- campaign finance reform, HMO reform. And he is the only Republican, really, with an independent power base apart from the White House. He's the only one who has a recognizable constituency, national constituency of his own. He has the platform in the Senate, where he's a major committee chairman. He can get on every Sunday show any time he wants to. So he's going to continue to be the one source of independent authority against George Bush, and I don't think he's going away.

PAGE: You know, Tucker Carlson thought he might be president, too, if you'll remember.

BLITZER: A former panelist on our LATE EDITION roundtable.

ROBERTS: And look what happened to him.


BLITZER: Let's switch gears and talk about Rowlie Evans, Rowland Evans, our friend, our colleague, the well-known columnist here in Washington with Evans and Novak. Unfortunately, Rowlie Evans passed away this past week.

He was a vibrant force in Washington journalism. Only as recently as two weeks ago, he was still co-hosting Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields. Listen to the question he asked Dennis Hastert only two weeks ago.


ROWLAND EVANS, "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS": The big question for speaker Dennis Hastert, particularly in view of the fact that you're number two in succession to the throne here in the White House: Do you think Vice President Dick Cheney, in view of his heart problems, should reduce his workload just a little bit?


PAGE: Not really a softball question there. You know, after that program, I went to a press breakfast, the Sperling breakfast, a print breakfast here in town about 10 days ago. And I was the second reporter to arrive on the scene that morning. Rowlie was the first. He was sitting there.

He gave the guest that morning, John Zogby, the pollster, a very hard time about who was going to get blamed for the recession if it comes, Bill Clinton or George Bush. He was a reporter to the end.

BLITZER: And, Christopher, you spent some time with him in the past few weeks, as well.

CALDWELL: Oh, sure, yes. I saw him at a party a couple of weeks ago. One of the consolations about this is Rowlie, who died at 79, never had to be an old man, you know, and kept writing up until the end. Every time a hot, young journalist decides to start a column in Washington, he says it's going to be just like Evans and Novak, and it never is.

BLITZER: And you came to Washington right after that column started.

ROBERTS: Yes, the column started in 1963. And there were two things about that column that I think are very important. One is it was based on reporting. It wasn't just two guys sitting around sucking their thumbs. They worked very hard. You had to read that column in Washington because you had to know what they were reporting.

And as they became more a voice of the conservative right and the Reagan revolution, you had to read the column to know what conservatives in Washington were thinking.

ROBERTS: It was an absolute must read. There are an awful lot of us who write columns, including me, people don't have to read. You had to read Evans and Novak.

The other thing that they did was they made a transition to television, and they were able to make that transition, become major TV stars as well as print people. And he was a great man.

BLITZER: Roland Evans, we're going to miss him. Unfortunately, he passed away this past week after a long battle with cancer.

Roland Evans, we're going to miss you.

And just ahead, Bruce Morton's Last Word.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Old Mir had lots of visitors, people from eleven countries. Proved men could go to Mars if they wanted.


BLITZER: Despite the endless troubles, did Russia's space station teach us something after all? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on the end of an era in space exploration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MORTON (voice-over): Let's hear it for the junker. Sure, Mir died, and, sure, we all made fun of her when she got old, but what a life she had. Launched in February 1986, she was supposed to last only five years. The Soviet Union, still a country back then, launched her proudly. The world's first space station.

The Berlin Wall still stood, the Cold War flourished. Mir outlasted all of them, the Wall, the country, the war. Just about outlasted Communism, you could argue.

In fact one cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev got stuck up there for six months in 1991, while new countries, Russia and Ukraine argued over who would do what about replacing him.

Old Mir had lots of visitors. People from 11 countries proved men could go to Mars if they wanted. A cosmonaut named Valery Polyakov spent 437 days aboard. Shannon Lucid spent 188 days, an American record.

1997 did Mir in pretty much. It did start to seem like those cars kids have in college. Can you fix this junker enough to run another six months, or should we scrap it?

In that one year an oxygen-producing canister started a fire, a supply ship smashed into Mir leaving dents -- the junker car syndrome again. The stabilizers failed and she tumbled. The computers failed and she drifted. Some toxic stuff got into the atmosphere, but somehow there was always somebody with gaffers tape or Superglue to fix it.

Now, it's over. But there's one man, Dennis Tito, an American, who's paid the Russians $20 million to visit space. He was suppose to go to Mir. A Japanese reporter had earlier. But now they want him to visit the new international space station.

The U.S. is objecting, but surely charging tourists is in the great free enterprise tradition. After all, if half the stories about recent presidential campaigns are true, you could donate your way into the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. Congress is full of rich people who spent big to gain office. Why should space be different? Cosmonauts, astronauts, now a "rentonaut," why not?

Tito himself, an engineer who later founded an investment company says, disqualify a person because he's wealthy. How true. I know United States senators who will tell you exactly the same thing.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Now it's time for you to have "The Last Word."

Robert writes this: "With a slumping national economy and the looming energy crisis in California threatening to make it worse, this is an inopportune time to have elected an inexperienced man as president. The stock markets are certainly giving Mr. Bush a vote of no confidence."

But another viewer has a different point of view: "Bush's tax plan's very sound and very necessary. It is time for Democrats to bring back some honesty to government which was lost with their old leader, Bill. Daschle and Gephardt are even spreading nonsense that Bush is causing the downturn with his comments, which is completely ridiculous."

And finally, one of you has this idea about campaign finance reform: "The best campaign reform would be to shorten the campaign period to six months with free TV ads. Why is there no debate on this?"

As always, I invite your comments. You can e-mail me at And don't forget to sign up for my free weekly e-mail at

When we return, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Stay with us.


BLITZER: And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

Time magazine asks, "What Scares You? Don't be afraid to read about the promising new cures for hundreds of phobias," on the cover.

Newsweek reveals why the Sopranos has the rest of TV running for its life, with Dr. Melfi, Tony and Carmela Soprano on the cover.

And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, the secrets of the stutter, what causes it and why there's hope.

That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, March 25. Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word on Sunday talk.

And be sure to tune in tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for a CNN Showbiz special: "ACADEMY AWARDS SPOTLIGHT 2001, AN OSCAR ODYSSEY."

I'll see you tomorrow night on Wolf Blitzer Reports. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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