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House of Representatives Enacting Bush Administration's Agenda

Aired August 2, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And Republican Congressman Roy Blunt from Missouri, chief deputy majority whip.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

There were high fives all around at the White House today. The Bush energy bill passed the House Wednesday, at about the same time Bush himself reached a deal with Congressman Charlie Norwood of Georgia on a version of the patients' bill of rights. Two big pieces of legislation, both breaking Bush's way.

But controversy erupted immediately. Some of Norwood's former allies attacked him as a sellout and a quisling. Norwood defended the deal as pragmatic.


REP. CHARLIE NORWOOD (R), GEORGIA: I'm not unhappy with our own bill. The problem is our own bill wasn't going to get out of conference. And if it did, it was going to get vetoed.


CARLSON: Meanwhile, the energy bill is expected to hit potholes in the Senate. The most contentious issue: drilling in the Arctic. The White House and elements of organized labor support it. Democrats and some liberal Republicans call it sacrilege.

For the moment, Bush is on a roll. But will the streak continue? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman Blunt, I want to ask you about all these high fives on the Hill today. I mean, I wonder, who is kidding whom? You know that that patients' bill of rights is dead in the Senate. You know this energy plan you passed yesterday is dead in the Senate. So aren't all these high fives really phony and premature?

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MS), CHIEF DEPUTY MAJORITY WHIP: I don't think so at all. I think it was a big week for the president. A big week to move these items forward. And remember now: the patients' bill of rights will go to conference, not the Senate. The last time ANWR was voted on in the Senate it was approved for more exploration. Ted Stevens said they can do it again, and I found him a lot of times to be right.

CARLSON: Congressman Lowey, it's, as you know, an article of faith among Democrats that the president is dumb and inept, yet here he's gotten his tax cut, he's gotten his energy bill, and it looks like he will get the patients' bill of rights. You have this inept president just steamrolling Democrats, leaving you dazed and confused. Isn't that what's going on here?

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY), CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: I think it's a tragic day for children and families across America. They were counting on a real patients' bill of rights today that would protect them from the HMO abuses, that would allow them to see specialists of their choice, that would allow them to hold the HMOs accountable.

In 1999, 60 Republicans voted for the bipartisan real patients' bill of rights. So what happened? Congressman Norwood goes to the White House, meets with President Bush and now we have a Bush-Norwood Bill that denies patients the real opportunity to get the services they need.

And what happened to those 60 Republicans they deserted? I think the only hope for the American people is that when this bill gets to conference that John McCain and Tom Daschle will stand up for the children and families, rather than the special interest HMOs and let's hope that right rules here.

PRESS: Congressman?

BLUNT: Nita Lowey is one of my favorite members of the Congress. I like her a lot. I love to be on the show with her. But I think she is way off base here.

What we really have got is the end of six years of gridlock on this issue. I think the way the American people will see that is in six months, President Bush was able to end six years of gridlock. He'll sign the bill we'll pass tonight. Hopefully, the conference will want a bill rather than 100 percent of what the Senate wanted.

PRESS: Well, before we get into the details of it, I have to ask you a question about the process. You know, President Bush came to town saying he wants to change the tone in Washington. We will have bipartisanship! So he's up there early this morning on the Hill, celebrating with House Republicans, no Democrats. Yesterday -- we just saw that picture a little earlier of President Bush standing at the podium alongside one guy, one Republican. Is that your idea of bipartisanship, that two Republicans are going to get together in a back room, call it the Oval Office, and cut a deal?

BLUNT: I think the door was open for a long time.

PRESS: Where were they?

BLUNT: They have been there. Because I've been there with some of the Democrats, who've been down there. The president has worked hard on this issue. I think finally we got down to where a couple votes would make the difference. The president decided to go get them.

PRESS: But -- it's not just the Democrats who are AOL on this -- AWOL, I'm sorry -- on this deal. AOL is something very important to us. We tend to slip when it gets close.

But John McCain has said that this deal really favors the HMO over the patients, and another Republican, Ganske, in your House, Republican from Iowa, a co-sponsor all these years with Charlie Norwood with this legislation, he says, hey, Charlie Norwood's not talking for me. Let's listen to what Greg Ganske had to say.


REP. GREG GANSKE (R), IOWA: Charlie was freelancing and he did not have our authorization, this was basically Mr. Norwood's own deal with the White House.


PRESS: So that's really what it was, wasn't it? They under cut the cosponsors, Republicans and Democrats.

BLUNT: I think it did come down to, at the end of day you couldn't go back and continue to try to clear a deal with some people who really didn't want a deal. This was not the first offer the president had made, but it's time to get this done. This is not going to improved by letting it lay out there over August.

This really is a great start, providing patients' rights they don't have now. Lots of potential to pursue those rights in court. I think when people look at this and listen to this debate a little bit tonight, but more importantly, when they look at it over the next 60 days or so, there will be an awful lot of pressure on that conference to report our bill out of the conference, get it signed into law, and stop talking about this for six years.

Nobody argues that this isn't 98 percent of everyone's solution to this problem.

PRESS: I think you might get an argument....

LOWEY: That's for sure.

CARLSON: Congresswoman Lowey, let's get past this, this being a tragedy for women and children hyperbole, and get to the details, just a few of them here.

The deal that Charlie Norwood cut with the president would do a lot of things Democrats wanted: patients can sue in state court, as you know, they can sue for the full amount of economic damages, the real damages. They get 1.5 million in pain and suffering, and 1.5 million in punitive damages.

If you are not a personal injury attorney, what problem do you have with that?

LOWEY: Oh, Tucker. We can pick out one sentence or another sentence. The message here is that the president met with Norwood in the dead of the night and carved out, not a bipartisan agreement, a Republican-Republican agreement. And frankly, at election time, the 60 Republicans who changed their vote will have to be held accountable by patients who no longer will be able to hold the HMOs accountable.

CARLSON: Wait a second!

LOWEY: That's really what...

CARLSON: I didn't ask you about the message. I asked you about the details: we have 1.5 million cap on pain and suffering: 1.5 million in punitive damages. Are you telling me that that's not enough? How much do you think a patient ought to get in pain and suffering?

LOWEY: The patient won't have the opportunity to go to court and we won't discuss the reasons and the legal arguments here, but you and I know and my good friend Roy Blunt knows that patient won't have the opportunity to hold the HMOs accountable and to go to court. And this is really deceptive. It's really very sad.

And my only hope is that John McCain and Greg Ganske and Dingell and Tom Daschle will win in the conference, and the people, the families, the children, will have a real patients' bill of rights and have someone to stand up for them.

BLUNT: You know, I think what the patients really have here is an immediate appeal to a health professional panel. If that health professional panel responds, they may not have a cause of action. If they don't respond, they have all the cautions of action possible. They can go to court.

What we really want here is a patients' bill of rights, not necessarily a patients' right to sue. They will have that, but before they have that, they get to go to a panel of health care professionals that has to act immediately, and if that health care panel is responsive and whoever provides your insurance takes your advice, that does restrict some of your ability to sue for punitive damages. But what punitive damages would you have if the health care professionals, not the insurance company, said this is what you ought to do and the insurance company does it?

PRESS: Well...

LOWEY: You and I know that this bill is drawn up in such a way that the odds are in favor of the HMOs and not the patients. The presumption of innocence has to be proven, the presumption of innocence is with the insurance company, but I don't even want to get into those kind of technical details. This is sellout. Greg Ganske knows that, John McCain knows that, Tom Daschle knows that. Let's hope the real bipartisan bill passes in conference.

PRESS: I tell you what, I want to get into some of these details because I think the details stink.

LOWEY: Right.

PRESS: Congressman, let me ask you about one of them. First, the general principle here is why should you sitting over there on the Hill, tell judges around this country, that all you can give anybody -- somebody has been maimed for life -- is a million 1/2 dollars. If you believe in the Justice system, why don't you let the juries let the courts decide? There are different branches of government here, Congressman. Don't you respect that?

BLUNT: There are, but -- this opens up the right to sue. This is a right...

PRESS: No, it puts a lid on it. One-and-a-half million.

BLUNT: Puts a million and a half on punitive damages.

PRESS: And pain and suffering.

BLUNT: The real dangers have no lid on them at all. Whatever your economic damages, whatever your real damages are, that you can show have no cap, but let me make this point. Let me make this one point: What we're really concerned about is, if you don't have some limit to this liability, then all the people that have insurance now through their employer will no longer have that insurance. The employer has no liability today. This raises that to these new liability levels, holds them at a new level of accountability, but still, we hope, encourages employers to continue to provide insurance as a benefit of employment.

PRESS: Yes, but that's baloney, Congressman. Look, I mean, what this does is protect the HMOs. It says the most they're going to get zonked for is million and a half dollars. Let me tell you, if my kid were maimed because of some decision by some doctor or some bureaucrat or an HMO, a million and a half -- I know the economic damages, so you pay the cost of hospitalization, pay the cost of surgery -- big deal! But then for the rest of his life, he's got a million and a half dollars?

BLUNT: This is the insurance you have been given as a benefit of your employment.

PRESS: No, it's not. I can get -- if you don't have this cap, I could get maybe whatever the jury says.

BLUNT: No, no. This is the insurance you've been given. If you want to go out and buy your own insurance, you have all the limit -- you have no limits. You can sue for anything you want to.

What we're hoping we do here is not discourage employers. I've talked to lots of employers, Bill, about the small and big. The small employers say, look, if we don't know what the limits are on our liability, our banker won't let us continue to give the insurance. The big employers say we have some obligation to our stockholders not to accept a new, totally unknown liability so we can do this good thing for our employees. This is insurance that people are given as a benefit of employment. Those are the policies we're talking about.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman, I'm struck, and I'm wondering if you are, by the fact that as we talk about the Patients' Bill of Rights, there's almost no conversation about medicine. And perhaps that's because almost everybody agrees on the strictly medical parts of this legislation, that people ought to have access to emergency room care, et cetera. What we're really arguing about is how much money should the lawyers get.

LOWEY: No, I think what we're really arguing about is holding the HMOs accountable. It's interesting -- you can sue the physicians if they do something wrong, but the HMOs are in a protected class. With this bill you can sue them, and it makes it very difficult to file a cause of action. And the families and the children are left behind.

And by the way, when we talk about economic benefits -- because you mentioned before, my good friend mentioned that that's OK -- what about the children, what about the women who don't hold a job who aren't in the work force? So this bill is wrong, and we can only hope that in the conference, the John McCain-Tom Daschle-Greg Ganske bipartisan bill will prevail.

CARLSON: Well, Congresswoman, I mean -- first of all, just to set the record straight, this bill does not prevent people from suing, it allows them to sue -- but let me just ask you this...

LOWEY: We can get into technical...

CARLSON: Let me ask you, though. Bush spent weeks arguing about this, negotiating over it. When Norwood came out yesterday, he was ashen, because they had spent so much talk talking about this. Bush compromised on a number of key questions, of course. What was he supposed to do?

LOWEY: Oh, come on. We're talking about civility, we're talking about bipartisanship -- so what happens? A Republican member sits in the Oval Office with the Republican president. They don't invite even Greg Ganske, the physician, or Dingell or John McCain. They don't have a bipartisan meeting.

So George Bush was frightened to death that the real bipartisan bill would come to his desk, and then the special interest would put so much pressure on him, he'd feel he has to veto it. And he didn't want to veto it, so he put the pressure on poor Norwood, who succumbed.

PRESS: All right, time for a break here. Members of Congress, hold on just a second. When we come back, the president is celebrating today. Will he still be celebrating tomorrow about his victory over drilling in ANWR? More CROSSFIRE coming up.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. President Bush and Vice President Cheney held an early-morning pep rally with jubilant Republicans this morning, celebrating a victory on energy and a deal on a patients' bill of rights. But will either one of them see the light of day? Was Bush's celebration premature?

Republican Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, chief deputy majority whip, says: "Take it to the bank." And Democrat Nita Lowey of New York, chair of the Democratic Congressional campaign committee, says: "Don't bet on it."


CARLSON: Congresswoman, as a friend of mine named Jonah Goldberg pointed out the other day, the argument about drilling in ANWR is really a religious argument. He described ANWR as the dome of the rock of environmentalism, and he did because he actually went there. Unlike virtually everybody in Congress, he actually saw it and reports back what most of suspected, which is it's completely desolate. And also reports, what we also knew, that drilling there on this tiny, tiny patch of land within the state 11 times the size of New York would have no effect on the environment at all. Democrats know this, don't they?

LOWEY: I have to make a few points. First of all, the majority of the American people believe that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is precious and we shouldn't drill there. Secondly, it will take us 10 years to drill and it will provide six months of oil. In the past 25 years, we have saved four times as much through conservation as we have through drilling. Thirdly, what I find amazing about this celebration, is there are tax giveaways in that bill to Bush's friend, the oil industry, of upwards of $23 billion.

Now, this is the president that said on the agricultural bill: "Oh, no, we can't have $2 billion more for the farmers." On the education bill: "We can't have $12 billion more for education." But $23 billion that's going to come from Social Security and Medicare -- that's OK!

CARLSON: Before we move to the grandly general, let's just stick with the specifics here for a moment. Now, when Prudhoe Bay opened to oil exploration, in the time since oil has been extracted from that area, the caribou herd there has increased fivefold.


CARLSON: There's a lot of evidence that drilling, as I said before, has no effect -- if any, a positive effect -- on the wildlife there. Give me a specific example of how the environment will be affected by drilling in ANWR.

LOWEY: I'm not sure which caribou you spoke to or what kind of wildlife you spoke to...

(LAUGHTER) CARLSON: I've done some caribou polling.

LOWEY: But I have to tell you, for many of the people that I speak to, it is clear this is a special refuge that shouldn't be touched. But the bottom line is, it'll take us 10 years to dig and we're only going to get six months of oil. So let's work on conservation and cut back on the amount of oil and coal and gas that we're using right now.

PRESS: Congressman?

BLUNT: You know, we could save a lot of time here with this exploratory drilling if in fact we know how much is already there. We don't know that. We've always set aside this area to look and see what oil and natural gas resources were there. We believe there's more natural gas there now than oil.

Two amendments we put on this bill yesterday that were very helpful, in terms of letting our members know what we were really doing. One was, whatever royalties come out of the ANWR go back into the National Park Service with special benefits for ANWR. And two is, the entire footprint, the entire drilling footprint would be 2,000 acres. That's a medium-size city airport somewhere in the state of South Carolina. And this his an important resource, we've always known we were going to use it. This is the time we look and see what's there.

PRESS: Congressman, I must say as an environmentalist, I don't really buy the bait and switch. So you destroy ANWR and we'll give you more money for the national parks. I mean, please!

But I just want to -- let's just get real, here. The fact is, you're just kidding yourselves. I mean, sure, Tom Delay, the hammer, can get around, get enough Republicans and a few crazy Democrats to vote for this in the House. But let me -- I think Joe Lieberman said exactly what's going to happen, and you know it in the Senate. Let's listen, please, to Senator Lieberman.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling proposal will be dead on arrival in the United States Senate. And if it begins to stir, as Senator Kerry and I have said before, we would be proud to lead a filibuster in the Senate to stop it from being adopted. It is that important.


PRESS: You are not going to get anywhere. You can have your high-fives and that's it, goodbye, good riddance.

BLUNT: Well, I'd like to assume that we won't look and see where our resources are in this area is not a good long-term assumption. Eventually, somebody is going to explore in the ANWR. I think it can happen soon. We will see what happen in the Senate. PRESS: You know, I read the other day, President Carter wrote an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" about this whole energy thing. He pointed out, in 1980, he signed an Alaska National Land Conservation Act, which set aside 100 percent of the offshore area in Alaska for drilling and 95 percent of all the potential oil and gas sites for drilling -- 5 percent only, which includes ANWR, was set aside. I mean, how greedy can you be, congressman? You can't leave 5 percent for future generations?

BLUNT: Well, in fact, I think in that same bill, this ANWR area was identified as a site for later exploration, and the way you'll drill in the ANWR is so much different than they way we drilled even 20 years ago. And the caribou herds have increased. All of the same predictions were made 20 years ago -- there are seven times as many caribou now as there were 20 years ago. They think this pipeline, Bill, is like soft music and candle light. They love it, and they're multiplying.


CARLSON: Wait a second, it's my turn to get to the truth now, Bill. Now, congresswoman, the Democratic Party gets a lot of mileage out of being, you know, the guardian of public safety, et cetera, et cetera. You saw a lot of hysterics on the Hill today over the potential head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but here are Democrats pushing for higher SUV mileage requirements, which, as you well know, would require car makers to make them lighter, and therefore more dangerous, and therefore people die, children die. Why would you push for something that would kill children?

LOWEY: Oh, come on, Tucker!

CARLSON: No, not come on, why would you do that?

LOWEY: Tucker, we go to the moon. We are talking about a national missile defense system. And you are telling me that we can't produce methods to conserve fuel that can raise standards?

CARLSON: No, I'm not telling you that, auto makers are telling you that.

LOWEY: Of course we can. Well, I have a good feeling that if they put their minds to it, they can conserve fuel so we wouldn't have to get six months of fuel from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They can do it. I have confidence...

CARLSON: But wait, what about -- and please answer my question, though, congresswoman, I mean, there have been a lot studies on this.


CARLSON: Some of them funded by the federal government that show, when you make a car lighter, an SUV lighter, in order to meet these mileage standards, you make it more dangerous. I mean, this -- nobody argues with that fact. LOWEY: You know, Tucker, I drive a Ford Taurus. Maybe more people should drive Ford Tauruses, and then we'd save a whole lot of fuel.

But seriously, I have confidence in Detroit, I have confidence in the industry, and they can keep us safe and be more economic in the use of fuel. If they would put their minds to it, they could create the kinds of car that would conserve fuel. We can do it, and we can do it air conditioners, we can do it on all our electrical equipment.

We just have to put our mind to it. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge cannot be replaced, but we can do the research to save, to conserve fuel.

PRESS: Just a quick question on that, congressman. I am not an auto engineer, I don't think you are either...

LOWEY: Neither am I.

PRESS: ... but there is a Subaru out, a SUV out there that gets something like 35 -- much more than 27 miles a gallon. I mean, you can certainly make an automobile engine more efficient, wouldn't you agree?

BLUNT: In the Energy and Commerce Committee that I'm on, we put that in the bill. We are encouraging the Transportation Department to do what President Bush said in the campaign he wanted to do, which was force the auto makers to these higher standards.

You know, on both those votes, now on this mileage vote, 82 Democrats voted for that amendment. On the ANWR vote, almost 40 Democrats -- these were bipartisan votes. The ANWR amendment, we had a number of labor unions working out of the Republican whip's office yesterday in the Capitol, seeing that ANWR is given an opportunity to at least find out what is there.

PRESS: I want to tell you a secret, congressman -- Democrats don't always cast the right votes. But I want to ask you about the tax cuts that Congresswoman Nita Lowey mentioned a little bit earlier, because in this -- this energy plan includes $33.5 billion in more tax breaks for the oil companies. I mean, what is the deal with this administration?

As the congresswoman pointed out, the president is opposing more money for agriculture, for farmers, he is opposing more money for education, and yet he's giving $33.5 billion to his buddies in the oil business! Do they just get anything they want?

BLUNT: The president has proposed record spending in both education and agriculture. Sure, he opposes whatever the biggest number somebody can think of is. He has proposed record spending, and in this area, a lot of tax credits go to conservation and renewable energy, as well as other kinds of traditional energy.

CARLSON: Congressman Blunt, we have to leave it there. Congresswoman Nita Lowey, thank you very much both for joining us. When we return, Bill Press and I will get to the bottom of the caribou question: is herd five times bigger or seven times bigger, in our closing comments. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Bill, the most striking thing about tonight was you couldn't get a single person -- and I sadly have to include you in this category -- to describe a single ill effect of drilling on this tiny patch of a barren wasteland at the edge of Alaska. Nobody can give specifics on this.

PRESS: Well, first of all, first of all, I want to take you to a barren wasteland in California. It's called Desert Valley, and you know, it is one of the most -- Death Valley, I'm sorry -- and it's one of the most beautiful places, magnificent places...

CARLSON: That's because the sun shines there, unlike in ANWR...


PRESS: ... you went there, you would say it was desolate, big deal. It's a wilderness area, and wilderness areas not supposed to have human intrusion.

CARLSON: But what does that mean? What does that mean? What effect does it have? I know it's a wilderness area...

PRESS: You want to know what the effect of it is? It's that it's there so that your kids and your grandkids some day can go there and not see an oil...


PRESS: Or a pipeline!


CARLSON: ... nobody ever goes to ANWR. You can't even basically even get there, unless you, you know, charter a plane! Nobody ever visits.

PRESS: It's part of a planet. We can save little pieces of it, Tucker. We don't have to destroy and pave all of it.

But I want to tell you something else. I'll leaving on vacation tonight. The last time I went on vacation, you told people I had a bowling accident.

CARLSON: Well, you did have a bowling accident!

PRESS: I just want you to know, I'm not going bowling this time.

CARLSON: I don't believe you.

PRESS: You are going off too. Have a great vacation. CARLSON: Well, you too. See you.

PRESS: See you in 10 days, guys. Good night for CROSSFIRE, I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for yet another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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