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Should Vice President Cheney Meet Yasser Arafat?; Why Do Some States Want to Revive Death Tax?

Aired March 25, 2002 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Different factors, steps are actually implemented, then at that point, I will be prepared to meet with Mr. Arafat. To date, that hasn't happened and, therefore, there's no meeting currently scheduled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, should Vice President Cheney meet with Yasser Arafat?

And, why are some states are trying to make sure death and taxes continue to go hand in hand?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Hasan Abdel Rahman, chief Palestinian representative to the U.S.; and Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. And later, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democratic Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey.

PRESS: It's CROSSFIRE, and thanks for joining us. Vice President Cheney has returned from the Middle East, but it didn't look like he'll be getting back on a plane any time soon. Latest word is that talked about meeting with Chairman Yasser Arafat won't take place after all, because, says Cheney, Arafat still hasn't done enough to stop the violence directed against Israelis.

At the same time, the United States is pressuring Israel to let Arafat out of his house arrest long enough to attend the Arab league summit in Beirut on Wednesday. The stakes are high because, strangely enough, chances for peace could very well hinge on both decisions. Should Cheney meet with Arafat? Should Israel let Arafat go to the summit? Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Weiner, I would like you to listen please to what I think is an extremely pithy analysis of the way the Israelis are treating Arafat given by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Mr. Erekat. Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: But for Mr. Sharon, he must make up his mind either to treat President Arafat as a president or as a prisoner. He cannot say at one day that he is irrelevant and on the other hand hold him accountable. It's just contradictory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Isn't that the situation, Congressman, that the Israelis are humiliating Arafat, treating him as a prisoner and then saying it's up to you, Mr. Arafat, to end this violence and to create the conditions for a cease-fire?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Arafat and his charges have been responsible for 365 deaths in the last 18 months by terrorism. It is the equivalent of having 18,000 deaths here in the United States. And it's not groups far from him. It's the Tanziem (ph), it's 417. Even just this week a member of the Al Aqsa Brigade who was just released from prison by Arafat committed an act of suicide bombing. You know, it's funny to hear Saeb Erekat say that. If Arafat on one hand can't stop the violence, why negotiate with him? If he can stop the violence, he's not doing it, that makes him accountable.

NOVAK: Well, of course, you didn't answer my question of whether the -- or Mr. Erekat's about the question of the contradiction of treating him as a president or a prisoner. But I'd like to read to you what the United States secretary of state said while traveling in Latin America with President Bush. He said -- we'll put it up on the screen -- quote, "Vice President Cheney could go at a later time, that is go to meet Mr. Arafat. It doesn't have to be right away. The important point is that Chairman Arafat knows we want to engage him as we move forward."

Now, Mr. Weiner, what the secretary of state is saying is that we want to meet with Arafat, at least conditions are being met. But aren't you one of the extreme pro-Israeli American lawmakers who says don't meet with him under any conditions?

WEINER: The way to be sure to get me reelected is to call me an extreme pro-Israeli lawmaker. But listen, General Zinni visited there in November. What happened when he hit the ground? Two terrible suicide bombings in the heart of Jerusalem right after the sabbath. And then Zinni says I'm not going back until the violence ends. What happens? Zinni went back. What happened the last couple of days? Look, it is clear...

NOVAK: You're saying he shouldn't meet with him under any conditions, is that right?

WEINER: I'm saying that, frankly, he is, for all intensive purposes, we should treat him the same way we should treat Mullah Omar. Someone responsible for terrorism should be treated like a terrorist. You asked a hypothetical question. Is he a president or a prisoner? He should be a prisoner. The guy has committed crimes.

PRESS: Mr. Rahman, I want to disassociate myself from the last remark, but I do want to say I certainly believe that Vice President Cheney should meet with Chairman Arafat. I don't think the United States can be an honest broker if we only meet with one side.

However, I do have to ask you this in picking up on Mr. Weiner's point, every time it seems we get close to a meeting, close to a cease-fire, there's another suicide bombing, bus. Just as the vice president was on his way to the Middle East, another suicide bombing of a bus last Thursday there. There was more shooting, more killing of Israelis over the weekend. Either Mr. Arafat doesn't want to stop the violence or he has no control over his people. Which is it?

HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN REP. TO UNITED STATES: Before I answer your question, I want to make two remarks. One, at least 60 percent of these Ili Kineset (ph) members differ with the congressman over how to deal with the Palestinians and with Arafat. They believe that Arafat is their partner. They believe that he is the only man who can make peace with Israel, and he has led the Palestinians in the direction of peace.

The second remark, the congressman speaks of 335 Israeli casualties, and we are sorry for the death on the Israeli side. But I did not hear the Congressman mentioning the assassination, the killing and the destruction of 1,300 Palestinians, killed at the hands of the Israelis; 435 of them are little children. I hope does that he not believe that the Palestinian life is less than Israeli life.

PRESS: Let me get to my question again. I think both sides have to stop the violence. Why hasn't Yasser Arafat done it given the opportunity?

RAHMAN: I'll tell you why. Yasser Arafat, first of all, like Saeb Erekat said, is a hostage under house arrest. His country, the West Bank and Gaza, is occupied by no less than 40,000 Israeli soldiers with 500 tanks. Just two weeks ago, they arrested 3,000 Palestinians. They have all the Palestinian people under siege, deprived of their very basic rights. This environment makes it difficult for Yasser Arafat to function.

PRESS: Mr. Rahman, I'd like you to answer this question. On Thursday, there was a suicide bombing that killed some more Israelis, injured others. Israeli officials said this was done by a member of an offshoot -- not an offshoot, of a part of the Al Fatah organization, political party that is headed by Mr. Arafat. And they said that Mr. Arafat gave the order. What is the truth of that?

RAHMAN: That is absolute lie, and I challenge the Israelis to produce one evidence that this man had any connection with Yasser Arafat or with any Palestinian organization or that Yasser Arafat has previous knowledge of this event.

PRESS: Congressman...

RAHMAN: This is absolute lie...

PRESS: I think I hear you wanting to jump in, Congressman.

RAHMAN: ... by the Israelis and by whoever perpetrated this lie.

PRESS: Congressman Weiner?

WEINER: Listen, the fundamental question is do you believe that suicide bombers, 19-year-old, 20-year-old suicide bombers who walk into restaurants, cafes and town squares, blow themselves up, is that reasonable political debate? Mr. Arafat says it is. Members of the Fatah movement pay a bounty...

RAHMAN: No, he does not. He does not.

WEINER: They pay a bounty to families of those martyrs that they call them.

RAHMAN: Congressman, he does not. And Yasser Arafat has condemned every single one of them. But I have not heard you condemning Israeli killing of a 4-year-old girl yesterday and a teacher and 430...

WEINER: Why is it on Arab television...

RAHMAN: Why don't you take the high moral ground, Mr. Congressman, and condemn the Israeli army for killing Palestinian children?

WEINER: Can I say something? Why is it that today, if you were you to tune in Palestinian terrorism...

RAHMAN: Why don't you?

PRESS: Let him answer.

WEINER: If you were to tune into Palestinian terrorism, you would hear advertisements directed at children saying drop your toys and take up arms. Why are martyrs who commit suicide bombings, like ones that took my constituents...

RAHMAN: You did not answer my question.

WEINER: Why is it that they are giving bounties by Yasser Arafat?

RAHMAN: You did not answer my question.

(CROSSTALK)

I am willing to condemn Palestinian killing of Israeli civilians.

WEINER: Oh, I'll alert the media. You're willing to condemn suicide bombings. That's terrific.

RAHMAN: Are you willing to condemn Israeli for killings of Palestinians?

WEINER: Can I tell you something? Right now, the Palestinians...

RAHMAN: Are you or not? (CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Go ahead quickly, Congressman.

WEINER: Here's what I would say. The moment that Yasser Arafat embraces the Tenet Plan, saying a cessation of violence, the Mitchell Plan, cessation of violence. The minute that he moves up to Oslo that he signed onto -- you know, can I say something? There would not be any bloodshed if not for the Palestinians initiating it, period.

NOVAK: OK. I'm afraid that's going to have to be the last word, Mr. Rahman.

PRESS: We're just getting started.

NOVAK: Thank you very much. Congressman Weiner, thank you very much. When we come back, why are some states dying to revive the death tax?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's said that two things in life are inevitable, death and taxes. But do they have to come at the same time? In talking about the dreaded estate tax, President Bush had the good sense to repeal it. But now many states seeing an available source of revenue want to revive it.

Good idea, or would it create a crazy patchwork of the state tax rates with some states becoming good places for old millionaires to die? Our guest, Democratic Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, he's in New York City, and Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, he's in Phoenix -- Bill.

PRESS: Senator Kyl, I remember the days when Ronald Reagan used to talk about something called the new federalism: Republicans believed in moving power out of Washington, back to the states and kind of letting the states run their own shop.

So you've got to agree, Senator, I think, that if the federal government is dumb enough to repeal the estate tax, that the states don't have to do it, they can do whatever they want to, and they've got the right to revive it if they want to, agree on principle?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Absolutely. If the federal government is smart enough to do it, which we did, the states are certainly entitled to do what they want to do, Bill.

PRESS: Let's look at what's happening to the states. It's calculated that the states, once this thing kicks in, are going to lose $6.5 billion a year in revenue because of legislation you passed. No state hurt worse than Florida. This year alone, which is the first year it kicks in, Florida is going to lose $174 million. That's enough to pay for 5,000 new teachers, or new classrooms for 12,000 students, senator. Don't you think that's a higher priority than giving some billionaires another tax break? KYL: Bill, that's up to the states to decide. If the governors of Florida or any other state and their state legislatures decide that they need to make that revenue up somehow and they want to do it via the death tax, they can reimpose that tax. There is nothing the federal government can do to stop them. It's up to them to set the priority.

PRESS: You won't say that educating kids and taking care of the schools is more important than giving the rich another tax break?

KYL: What I'm saying is it's up to the people in the state in question to decide that. If they believe it is, and they want to raise the taxes by imposing a death tax, they're free to do so. If they want to raise the revenue in some other way, they are free to do that.

NOVAK: But do you think they should?

PRESS: That's what I've tried to ask him. I don't think he's going to answer it, Bob.

NOVAK: Alright. Senator Corzine, just a second, I want to talk about the death tax in general for a moment.

SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: You mean the inheritance tax, don't you Bob?

NOVAK: I can call it what I want, sir. You can call it what you want. That way we are even. Senator, you're a multimillionaire, one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate, and it really makes no difference to you. It's all like Monopoly money, you have so much money, whether you pay some to the federal government. But can you appreciate that there are hardware store owners, there are farmers, as even owners of weekly newspapers that this is life or death for them, to get this tax repealed?

CORZINE: Bob, it's only 2 percent of the population, those who passed, that are subject to the inheritance tax. If we reformed it as opposed to repealing it, we could take the inheritance tax and reduce its application by two thirds of the population and then it would only apply to about less than 1 percent of the population, be very focused on people that have estates larger than $8 million.

This is a canard. The fact is there are horrible unintended consequences to this. We're seeing it in states loss of revenue where in fact we're in amidst of a recession. They're are under a lot of pressure to pay for those schools that Bill was talking about. We are having a backing away from charitable giving in part because people anticipate this.

This has lots of implications that go well beyond, it's outside the context of sort of the Theodore Roosevelt view of America that meritocracy is more important than an aristocracy.

NOVAK: Sir, since I can't get you to agree with me on people who, unlike you, who really made this money the hard way or their family businesses...

CORZINE: Bob, I think you knew I grew up on a 100 acre farm in central Illinois, so I believe in...

NOVAK: You're an investment banker, aren't you?

CORZINE: America provides a lot of opportunity.

NOVAK: But what I want to ask you, sir, is a political question. The fact that we have, even Democrats by the hordes, Democrats in the House voting for this. Do you think it makes much sense politically for your fellow Democrats and state legislatures to say to the people, OK, the federal government has taken this onerous burden off you, but we're going to put it right back on? Do you think that makes sense politically?

CORZINE: I think what has happened here is the federal government forgot to think about the consequences of how state inheritance taxes actually worked, which was coupled with the federal program and without any kind of consultation, just decided that we were going to erode their tax base.

So I think the states have to go back, reevaluate that, decide what they want to do going forward. My point is this is a very narrow slice of society. We're undermining charitable giving. We're undermining state's revenue flows, and we're undermining the Social Security trust fund, because over a long period of time this is really going to truly erode revenue for the federal government.

PRESS: Let me pick up there if I may, Senator Kyl, because I know you call this the death tax, and just so that everybody watching understands again, dead people do not pay this tax. This tax is paid by their kids who did nothing to earn that money, except be born to rich parents, and there are about 2,500 people in the entire country that qualify. So my question to you is, isn't that real special interest legislation? And why do those few people deserve this huge tax break?

KYL: Bill, I guess the answer to the question is why do the overwhelming majority of American people think it's an unfair tax? Why did an overwhelming majority of the House and Senate vote to repeal it? The president signed it into law.

Why did 56 senators just support a sense of the senate resolution that says that the repeal that we affected should be made permanent after the 10th year. It's a very unfair tax. It affects a lot more people than the number of estates that pay it. It affects all of the family members, all of the employees of those businesses you talked about, all of the people that are involved in the estate planning, and all of the others who are affected, not just the estates.

But let me make one other point since I do think your program is a good opportunity for education, I want to make it clear that the federal government action in repealing the death tax replaced it with a capital gains tax. And as a result, when those heirs inherit the money, when they sell, they'll pay a capital gains tax on those assets.

PRESS: Senator, while we're informing the public, let's also inform the public that under the plan that you voted for, this tax finally expires in the year 2010 and then kicks back in, full-time, in the year 2011. So basically you've set it up so that in the year 2010 if you want to escape the tax, everybody has got to die or commit suicide in the year 2010, it's such a stupid tax.

KYL: Bill, the way that was done was not good, but that wasn't the fault of the proponents, that was the fault of the opponents who would not allow us to make it permanent. We were restricted to a 10- year program under the reconciliation procedures of the Congress, and that means that whatever we did sunsetted at the end of the 10th year. We all wanted to make that permanent.

CORZINE: Jon, everybody knew that that had to be the way it was if you were going to hold the limits to the amount of erosion of tax revenues for the federal government. That was part of the plan that was put forward.

KYL: Sure. Join me in making it permanent then.

CORZINE: I believe in reform, but not repeal.

NOVAK: Senator Corzine, you have mentioned charitable contributions as an impact. I was just looking at my charitable contributions and really my whole plan for the rest of my life. It would have no effect on what happens to the estate tax, or any kind of contribution.

Are you saying that the Americans, who are the most philanthropic and generous people in the world are doing it just for a tax break? Do you think really, boy, I was going to establish a charity at my university, and somebody would say no, I'm not going to do it now because the estate tax is not there anymore?

CORZINE: I think there are a number of surveys out that show people would be less willing to give the kinds of money they've given if they were going to be able to control those resources long into the future. But I think this is less the point than whether we want to establish sort of a concentration of wealth in this society that is different than we've ever had a principle of having throughout our century.

PRESS: Hate to interrupt, Senator. That's got to be the last word. We are out of time. Senator Corzine, up in New York, thanks for joining us. Senator Kyl out there in Phoenix good to have you with us again, sir. Good debate.

And when we come back, signs of the times, including one big embarrassing sign that's coming down. And plus I'm going to warn you, I might even have a kind word to say about Bob Novak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: And now our pictures of the day. Roll the tape. A couple of pieces of videotape today tell a big story, starting out in Houston, where the mighty Enron has no friends left, not even the Astros. One by one, workers have removed all traces of Enron from what used to be called Enron field. The Astros wanted to disassociate them selves from that disgraced company so badly, they paid Enron $2.1 million to take its signs down. Baseball fans, check out Ebay, you may be able to buy an Enron sign cheap.

NOVAK: Bill, this picture beats all. Who was that at the so- called "In Style" Academy Awards party at Hollywood Sunday dressed to kill in a black dress?

Oh, it must have been somebody impersonating Janet Reno. NO! It's the real Janet Reno. The former attorney general running for governor of Florida tooling around the stage in a pickup truck. Why did she join this Oscar crowd in Hollywood? Well, facing many more months of humiliation in a losing campaign, a gal has to get her kicks somewhere.

PRESS: How cruel. Hey, Bob, I'm not hear tomorrow night, you're not here the rest of the week, so this is our last CROSSFIRE show together. I just have to say, professionally, you are a great debater, a strong adversary, you work harder than anyone I know in this town, you just get your facts wrong, but personally, you've helped me get this job, you have supported me every day of it, I am going to say a big thank you.

NOVAK: Well, thank you very much. Bill, you were wrong about almost everything. I pray for your eternal soul most of the time. But I'll tell you this, I've been on this show off and on for 20 years, and the last six years working with you I've enjoyed more because you're a gentleman, and you're smart and you're always well informed. Good luck.

PRESS: Thank you, Robert. A secret, don't tell anybody we really like each other. From the left, I will see you Wednesday night. I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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