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What Role Should Bush Administration Play in Middle East?; Candy Bars and Soda May Soon be Slapped with Sin Taxes

Aired March 28, 2002 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight in wake of recent violence, Yasser Arafat says he's ready for a cease-fire. What role should the Bush Administration be playing in the Middle East? And your candy bar and soda may soon be slapped with sin taxes. Why are some states cracking down at the cash register?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California, member of the International Relations Committee and fellow committee member, Republican Congressman Peter King from New York. And later, Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the public interest and Chris Edwards from the Cato Institute.


We're ready. Those are the words of Yasser Arafat, who today announced his willingness to work toward an immediate cease-fire with Israel. And even as Arafat spoke, there was news that four Jewish settlers had been killed in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen. This, a little more than 24 hours after 20 Israelis were murdered in what some are being calling the Passover massacre.

The region, if not its leaders, is ready for a cease-fire, but will it happen? And what role will the Bush administration play in bringing it about? The president's critics accuse of him being disengaged, even negligent when it comes to Israel. The president's advisors call him a realist. Is it up to the U.S. to bring peace to the Middle East? Have we done enough? That's our debate tonight. Bill Press?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman King, as the violence in the Middle East seems to get worse day by day, there's a general impression that the Bush administration is unsuccessful in any efforts to try to bring the parties together. Maybe it's because they got off to too late of a start. I'd like to remind you what President Bush was saying about the Middle East when he was a candidate and how high a priority it was for him. Here's then candidate George Bush back in October of 2000. Please, let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also need to -- the next leader needs to be patient. We can't put the Middle East peace process on our time table. It's got to be on the time table of the people that are trying -- that we're trying to bring to the peace table. We can't dictate the terms of peace.


PRESS: Congressman, you'd have to admit right now he was wrong, wasn't he? I mean, we made a big mistake sitting on the sidelines for over a year. And now we're just off to too late of a start.

REP PETER KING (R), INTL. RELATIONS CMTE.: No, Bill, in the context of when he said it, candidate Bush was exactly right. And I believe during the first year, certainly the first eight months of his administration, he did the right thing.

Because what happened was that was when Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton, who I give credit for trying to bring this together, put everything on the table and Yasser Arafat had walked away from it. And what President Bush was saying was that if Arafat was going to continue to act that way, that the U.S. was going to step back and let Israel assert itself.

That's why in the first several months of the Bush administration, he did have Prime Minister Sharon to the Oval Office, but not Yasser Arafat. He was sending a clear signal that the U.S. was not going to have a situation of moral or diplomatic equivalency between the Israelis and the Palestinians, when it was the Palestinians who were rejecting the good faith offers that were on the table. I mean, they were offered 95 percent of what they were looking for.

And Arafat still walked away. And the intifadah began. And the violence began.

PRESS: Well, let me ask you what kind of a signal that sends? I mean, Vice President Cheney goes to the Middle East. He meets with everybody that walks, except Yasser Arafat. President Bush, as you indicated, has met with Prime Minister Sharon four times, refuses to meet so far with Chairman Arafat. How can we pretend to be an honest broker in the Middle East when you only meet with one side?

KING: If we're going to be an honest broker, the Palestinians have to show some good faith. They have not shown it. I believe the Israelis certainly showed good faith at the Camp David talks in 2000. I believe that right now -- I have no doubt at all that the Israeli government, no matter what problems people may have with the Lakoud (ph) party or Prime Minister Sharon, have no doubt that if a legitimate offer was on the table, the Israelis would negotiate.

I have no idea who would even negotiate for the Palestinians. I don't know if Arafat is even in any position to deliver any Palestinians to the table. So the president certainly is engaged. The president is involved. But I understand, I support the fact that last year, he did, in effect, allow the Israelis to assert themselves. That was sending a clear signal to the Palestinians. Hopefully, the moderate Arab states will now finally come around and start leaning on Arafat and the Palestinians.

CARLSON: Now Congressman Lantos, the U.S. has been deeply engaged in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for more than 50 years, since the Truman administration. And in that time, the U.S. has spent huge amounts of time and money trying improve relations between the two sides. It hasn't worked very well, as we've seen, but not for lack of trying. So isn't it a bit over the top for anyone, outrageous really for anyone to suggest that President Bush's inattention is somehow responsible for the bloodshed here?

REP TOM LANTOS (D), INTL. RELATIONS CMTE.: Well, obviously I agree with you. And I think this whole pattern of trying to blame either President Clinton or President Bush for the outrages of Arafat and his murderous cohorts is an absurdity.

Let me put yesterday's episode in some context. We have 50 times the population of the state of Israel. This means that yesterday we had the equivalent of 1,000 American citizens at their Christmas Eve dinner being assassinated and some 8,500 being injured, many of them severely. That is what we are dealing with.

It is neither Bush, nor Clinton, nor any other administration, which is at fault, but Arafat and the other Arab leaders, who have still not found it in their heart to recognize that Israel will live there in peace and security. The only question is, how many innocent Arabs and how many innocent Israelis will be killed before we get to that point?

CARLSON: Yes, but Congressman Lantos, everything you've just said really could have been uttered by this president, President Bush, who from the very beginning, his first day in office, even before then, has made it really clear he's on the side of Israel essentially.

LANTOS: Yes, you need to understand I have no problem with President Bush. I had a great deal of problem with the State Ddepartment early on, when it attempted to project the concept of moral equivalence. There is no moral equivalence between a democratic Israel and Arafat and his terrorist henchmen. There was no moral equivalence between Hitler and Churchhill. And I think the emphasis that Bill places on being an honest broker is a mistaken emphasis. The United States must be on the side of democratic societies, free and open societies, and not dictatorial police states such as Arafat's regime.

PRESS: Well, as much as I may hate to disagree with my good friend Tom Lantos, I believe that Palestinians killing Israeli citizens is wrong, and Israelis killing Palestinian citizens is wrong. And I want to come back to you, Congressman King, and ask you...

LANTOS: Well, you simply must understand that when the American Air Force was bombing civilians in Germany, during the second World War, that was not equivalent to Hitler's gas chambers.

PRESS: I never suggested it was, congressman. And I resent that remark. Don't try to make a Hitler lover out of me. What I'm saying is the killing on both sides has to stop. I believe it. And I want to come back to Congressman King.

LANTOS: Well, that is not...

CARLSON: Hold on a second.

PRESS: Please, congressman. If I may, I'm back to Congressman King. Congressman, we've given -- the United States over the years, I'm glad we have, I'm a supporter of Israel, we've given Israel a lot of support. So President Bush recently asked one thing of Ariel Sharon. He said Vice President Cheney called him directly and said, we would like you to permit Yasser Arafat to leave Ramallah and go to Beirut to this Arab summit. And Cheney said -- I mean Sharon said no way. Isn't that an incredible lack of gratitude, sticking an eye, basically in the face of the United States?

KING: No, Bill, it's not. Listen, as a person who supports the administration, I would have preferred, obviously, that Prime Minister Sharon accedes the request. But having said that, I'm not the one living in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Haifa. I'm not the one who's subjected to these terror attacks by the Palestinians.

And you know, you can have two allies. Tom Lantos made the analogy before to Winston Churchhill. Well, during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchhill had many differences, but they were united against a common foe.

So even though Ariel Sharon and the Bush administration may have small differences along the way, the reality is that Israel is a democracy. It is our closest ally. And if there's any moral scale here, Israel is light years ahead of the Palestinians. And let me go back to my initial point, Bill, who do you talk to on behalf of the Palestinians? They have not produced any leadership which has the credibility or the integrity to deliver anything other than more terror.

CARLSON: OK, Mr. Lantos, very quickly, I mean, is there someone you've said that it's moral equivalence and offensive for the State Department to treat Sharon and Arafat in any way in a similar manner. Who else, apart from Arafat, can the U.S. deal with on behalf of the Palestinians?

LANTOS: Well, there will be a new Palestinian leadership emerging. It's perfectly obvious that while Arafat today is talking about the cease-fire before we applaud, we have to see what he will do. The man who perpetrated this massacre yesterday was given to Arafat as a person he ought to arrest because he was a terrorist. He failed to do so. And now a large number of people are dead. That is the kind of performance we have come to expect of Arafat.

PRESS: All right, Congressman Lantos, this going to be the last word, Congressman Lantos. Congressman King, thank you for joining us. Happy Passover. Happy Easter to both of you. We'll see you back in Washington before too long.

And when we come back, in most states today, if it's fun or if it's sinful, they'll tax it. But why should our kids have to pay taxes on soda pop? Taxing the Pepsi generation, next.


PRESS: CROSSFIRE, round two. The good news is you can still sin. The bad news is you have to pay taxes on it. 25 states have already or are considering imposing higher taxes on cigarettes. Nine states raised taxes on alcohol. And listen to this, Connecticut's even thinking about taxing yarn. Bad news for weavers.

But California, as always, is the most far out of all. Assemblywoman Deborah Ortiz is proposing a new tax on soda pop, which she says will not only raise a ton of new revenue, but encourage kids to drink milk or juices instead and lose weight. Fewer fat Alberts in the school yard would be nice, but are taxes the best way to get there?


CARLSON: Margo Wootan, this is not -- you know, like so many crusades by public busybodies, this goes under the guise of health. But as you know, it's not really about health. It's about raising revenue on the backs of the unpopular. First it was the cigarette smokers. Just a matter of time before it gets to fat people. Nobody likes fat people. Why not just tax fat people? Nobody's going to defend them. That's what it's really about, isn't it?

MARGO WOOTAN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Oh, it's not at all about taxing fat people. Obesity is one part of the problem, but poor diets and physical inactivity actually are the leading causes of death in this country. They kill about the same number of people as tobacco. They cause heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes.

The rates of obesity are rising like crazy in both adults and in kids. We're seeing Type II diabetes in kids, which never used to happen. We're seeing five-year-olds with high cholesterol, because their diet is so bad and they're not getting physical activity.

We're talking about a broad comprehensive strategy to promote healthy eating and physical activity. To save money, you're already paying for healthcare. We're talking about putting some of that money on the front end and helping people stay healthy in the first place. And soda pop tax is just one possible mechanism of funding those programs.

CARLSON: OK, let me suggest another because I think I'm following your line of reasoning here. The sin tax, it taxes things that are bad for you because all of us pay the healthcare costs. I think that's part of the idea you're explaining.

PRESS: You're getting it.

CARLSON: I am. How about a sun tax, though? Because one of the leading causes of cancer in this country, as you know, is exposure to UV rays. So why not charge light skin people to go to the beach? Because after all, you and I are going to pay for the result of their outrageously, their flamboyant disregard of health when they get skin cancer. So why not charge them for it?


CARLSON: No, no, don't laugh. It's no crazier than soda pop tax.

WOOTAN: Soft drink taxes are not a crazy idea. Already more than a dozen states have soft drink taxes in place. Most of the time, the monies goes toward general revenues. What California's talking about is finding a funding mechanism for promoting healthy eating and physical activity to kids, because this is having a big effect on families' health and children's health and on our healthcare costs.

PRESS: Well, Chris Edwards, I see this as really a theological issue. I mean, I was growing up. I grew up as a Catholic, that taught that you pay for your sins. I mean, in the next life, you burn in purgatory or you burn in hell forever. And so in this life, you pay taxes on your sins. I mean, what's wrong with that?

CHRIS EDWARDS, CATO INSTITUTE: I mean, for starters, those states don't need the money. I mean, state budgets before this last year have been rising seven or eight percent. This year, state budgets will still rise by 3 percent. The last time states actually cut was way back in 1983. So they don't need the money.

And secondly, these taxes are very regressive. Even the left wing Citizens for Tax Justice has found that these excise taxes on sinful products, tobacco and alcohol, and the rest cost low-income folks five time as high a percent of their income as people at the top. So they're really unfair taxes.

PRESS: Well first of all, if you think states don't need the money, you're crazy. I mean, Maryland is thinking about going to -- having slot machines now because they're running a deficit. California's running a deficit. I mean, the states are not awash in money.

But it seems to me that there's a double advantage to this. It does raise revenue for these states. But the other thing is, the more the prices go up, this has been proven on any product, the prices go up, consumption comes down. You tax cigarettes high enough, and people are going to stop smoking. So it's a win-win. You raise money, you get people to stop smoking, right?

EDWARDS: In fact, that's not really true for cigarettes, particularly...

PRESS: Sure it is.

EDWARDS: ...if you look at teenage smoking, raising -- teenagers are actually very price insensitive to tobacco. In fact, teenagers go after the premium, expensive brand of cigarettes for the cache and the coolness. They don't think rationally like adults do about prices.

WOOTAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shows tobacco taxes have been very effective in reducing tobacco use. If you look back in the 1950s, more than half of people smoked. Now it's about 20 percent.


WOOTAN: Smoking rates have gone down. And taxes is one key strategy. But for soft drink taxes, what the Senator Ortiz has proposed, what the Center for Science for Public Interest has proposed, is not taxing soda at such a high rate that it affected consumption.

CARLSON: Wait a second.

WOOTAN: But a small tax. She's talking about a penny or two.


WOOTAN: A penny or two per can. It's a very small amount of money. You see next to -- you know, in 7-11, you go in convenience stores, if you throw your penny into the little jar next to it. That's how much people care about pennies.

EDWARDS: You can say that they're small taxes, but these things add up. Alcohol and tobacco and now snack foods. What's next? All these things add up. And again, because low income folks spend more of their money on some of these vices, they spend more on food, it's going to be hitting them the hardest, which seems really unfair.

In addition, it's going to be corrupting the tax code. The tax code is already complicated enough. We don't need special revenue agents and all the states going out and finding all the smuggling with snack foods, and all the problems that happen when you have...

CARLSON: And there will be. Because as you know, people, even poor, fat people, hard as it may be to believe, are clever about this sort of thing. So when cigarette prices go way up, I'm not the one...

PRESS: They're not very clever if they're eating snack foods.

CARLSON: (UNINTELIGIBLE) Margo Wootan is. But in any case, do you want see...

WOOTAN: We're all eating a lot of snack food.

CARLSON: Do you want to see people eating bootleg HoHos or smuggling Twinkies or making bath tub Mountain Dew? Do you want to see that, because it will happen. It happened during the Depression and it will happen. Do you want to be responsible for that?

WOOTAN: We're not asking for a ban on any foods. We're just -- what's being proposed is a very small tax as one of many possible ways to raise money for nutrition and physical activity programs. I mean, we already...

CARLSON: Just like the restriction smoking in elevators. Oh well, it's just a minor restriction. Next thing you know...

WOOTAN: If you look at diabetes alone, Medicare and Medicaid costs, just the federal government share is $15 billion a year. Diabetes rates have increased by 50 percent over the last 10 years.

EDWARDS: In fact, this is a false argument.

WOOTAN: All due to obesity. So we need to find some revenues for a program to help families get better.

PRESS: Let me get a question here. By the way, I just have to say, my grandfather made bath tub gin. So I look forward to the day when my kids are taking bath tub Mountain Dew.

CARLSON: Won't be half as good.

PRESS: Just to put this in perspective, you know, this is not a tax on kids. This is a tax on the manufacturers. They've got to pay, what is it, 21 cents for every gallon of soda pop, $2 bucks for every gallon of syrup, which gets down to about 2 cents per kid.

EDWARDS: All these taxes, economists agree that all these excise sales taxes that are pushed forward to consumers. But I want to talk with tobacco. It's...

WOOTAN: But the profit margin is huge. It's different than tobacco.

PRESS: I want to stay on the soda pop for just a second. Isn't the easy solution, just get the soda pop machines out of the schools? The kids aren't going to have to pay it. They'll drink juice instead.


EDWARDS: I don't disagree with that. That's an issue for the school boards. But with tobacco and these snack taxes, it could -- smokers actually save society money because they end up dying earlier. This is true.

CARLSON: That is actually true.


EDWARDS: That showed that Social Security savings, and Medicare savings, nursing home savings actually more than make up for extra health costs of smokers.


CARLSON: Unfortunately, dead smokers are not...


CARLSON: OK, guys. Thank you. Margo Wootan, Chris Edwards, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

And next, the moment you, or at least we have been for all week, our Thursday night police blotter. The good, the bad, the completely busted. When public figures intersect with law enforcement, CROSSFIRE is there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. CROSSFIRE takes a hard boiled turn tonight. It's time for our Thursday night "police blotter."

First an update, recently we brought you the latest chapter in the saga of former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Barry, you may remember, was stopped by police last week and found to have marijuana and a rock of crack cocaine in his Jaguar. Officers at the scene also noticed an unidentified white powdery substance on Barry's upper lip.

The incident did not end in arrest, though it did leave Washington's current Mayor Anthony Williams to say he hopes Barry "gets the help me needs." Barry, who made his film debut some years ago on an FBI surveillance tape while smoking crack was outraged by the remark. Williams, he said, "owes me and the citizens of Washington a deep apology." And we await it.

PRESS: Looks like the bitch set him up again.

And PETA scores another big victory for animal rights. To drum up new business at Easter time, a Pennsylvania car dealer put up big signs inviting people to stop by for a peep show. No nude girls involved. Turns out, they were only handing out baby chicks. Get it? Peep?

Alerted by PETA, humane officers shut them down because state law bans giving away live animals as door prizes. Too bad. After all, what good's a new car if you can't pick up chicks?

CARLSON: And speaking of dating, Luther Crawford is back in the news. The 49-year-old Kentucky man is good at having children. He has 12, by 11 different women, but not so good at paying for them. Crawford says his partial blindness and a heart condition prevent him from paying $54,000 in back child support. A judge's solution? Celibacy, as in no more sex, procreative or otherwise. That was Crawford's sentence and a recent plea bargain he agreed to at the time. And the itch returned.

Now Crawford says he thought the sentence was a joke. Plus, he says it violates his, as yet unspecified, constitutional rights. Headed to the Supreme Court. We'll keep you posted.

PRESS: And now the latest on CROSSFIRE favorite, James Traficant, fighting the battle of his life in an Ohio courtroom. We love Traficant because he'll say anything on television. But what works on TV doesn't work in the courtroom.

While defending himself on bribery charges, Traficant was strongly reprimanded by the judge for his colorful putdown of prosecutors. "They have the testicles of an ant." Well, we don't know whether prosecutors have the testicles of an ant, but Traficant clearly does not.

I think he has the huevos of a bull. CARLSON: And now, CROSSFIRE Thursday night anatomy lesson draws to a close.

PRESS: All right, you got it. That's all for now, folks. No more time for fun. We'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: For big fun, join us tomorrow night, Friday night. I'm Tucker Carlson. And good-night.


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