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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is Lieberman a Republican in a Democrat's Clothes?

Aired January 13, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE tonight: debating Bush-o-nomics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: It's not just a stimulus bill, it's not just a tax bill. It is a jobs and growth package.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Do the Democrats have a better way, or any way at all?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I think the Bush economic plan is a stimulus for the rich and a sedative for the rest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: As of today, he's Joe candidate. Can he become Joe president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I intend to talk straight to the American people and to show them that I'm a different kind of Democrat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And who is to blame for the high price of everything medical, the doctors or the lawyers?

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University: Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Tonight: Republican tax cuts and Democratic obstructionism. We'll debate it, as well as Joe Lieberman's entry into the presidential race. Now that have everyone's health insurance premiums have gone up with the new year, we'll ask who is to blame, the doctors or the lawyers.

But first, we have a special guest sitting on the left tonight. Please welcome consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Thank you, Ralph, for joining us. We really appreciate it.

RALPH NADER, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: Thanks for inviting me.

CARLSON: This is going to be more fun than a presidential campaign and less dangerous to all involved. And we'll begin in just a minute. But before we do, we start off, as we always do, with the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Here it is.

Senator Joe Lieberman today returned to the high school where he was once elected class president to announce that he was taking the next step and running for president of the United States. Lieberman began by boasting he is "a different kind of Democrat." He went on to sound almost perfectly conventional.

Lieberman criticized the Bush administration's plan for a tax cut and he promised to put money in the pockets of consumers. He said he would strengthen homeland security, protect Social Security, make health care affordable for everyone, fix our failing schools, and "bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore years."

Lieberman didn't mention the sacred lock box or join the side of the people versus the powerful or even brag about inventing anything. But give him time. Before long he'll remember those slogans too. And I can't wait until he does. This is like Gore (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I'm excited to see it.

NADER: Tucker, which part did you see he was seeking the nomination of?

CARLSON: Apparently the Democratic Party.

NADER: Oh, I see. All right.

Most everybody figures President Bush would like to make total war on Iraq before spring. But things aren't going the administration's way. The United Nations weapons inspectors are making noises about needing more months to finish their job. Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees, while French President Jacques Chirac is repudiating unilateral action by the U.S.

Meanwhile, the peace movement, including retired veterans, clergy and labor, keeps growing in the U.S. and western Europe. The White House says President Bush has no timetable for how long the U.S. buildup in the Persian Gulf will last.

But time is money. In this case, big money from taxpayers and consumers. And if anybody in officialdom has considered the innocent casualties in geopolitical trouble, it would come in the aftermath of a Desert Storm II. They aren't talking, and that could be the real disaster, Tucker.

CARLSON: Ralph, I know, as you do, that Bianca Jagger has gone over to Iraq. And I find that compelling, too. Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, they move my heart as well. But the fact is, there is a real threat from Iraq, and it is the duty of government, no matter how much it costs, to protect its citizens from threats. And if you think Iraq is a threat it doesn't matter how much it costs.

(APPLAUSE)

NADER: Well, you know, General Zinni head of the Marine Corps, retired, doesn't think this is a wise thing to do, along with most of his fellow retired officers, according to an October report in "The Washington Post." I hear that even George Bush's father is very, very concerned about going to war. That's one reason why he didn't topple Saddam Hussein in 1991, because of the aftermath.

CARLSON: Well there are real arguments against it. There are honest people on both sides; fewer on one side than on the other. But the fact is that the cost of the war I don't think ought to be a factor. The question is, is it a just war, is it a necessary war? Not is it an inexpensive war.

NADER: And of course most Americans think that President Bush hasn't proven that there is a real threat from a dictator who is surrounded by three hostile enemies more powerful (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who has control of one-third of his country, and who is lucky to find a place to sleep tonight.

CARLSON: Well look, I would feel sorry for him, too. Bianca Jagger is there, as I said. But that doesn't mean he's not a threat.

In news from the states tonight, Democrat Paris Glendening is finally stepping down as the most unpopular governor in the history of the state of Maryland. During his eight years in office, Glendending nearly destroyed his state's economy, boosted its budget deficit to over $1 billion, and left his wife for a much younger member of the staff.

Now with two days left in office, Glendening has committed one final indignity. This weekend he gave high-paying state jobs to his few remaining friends. One got a judgeship, several more got seats on the University of Maryland's board of regions. The Democratic House majority leader's live-in girlfriend got appointed to a particularly lucrative state position. She'll make more than $1.5 million over her term, et cetera.

Critics howled, Glendening ignored them. Saying his only regret was not being able to pardon a fugitive financier or two before leaving office.

NADER: Well, you know, your Republican successor, Governor to be Ehrlich, wants to open slot machines at tracks and maybe around other places in Maryland. Thereby giving Marylanders the opportunity to bet on the future instead of build a future.

CARLSON: Well, no that's -- I mean, look, I'm against gambling because I think it is unfair to Democrats who disproportionately gamble and lose. I think it is a bad idea. But at least it is hard to imagine the incoming governor giving various friends and girlfriends high paying state jobs. That is sleazy. I think you'll agree.

NADER: It is quite a choice, isn't it?

CARLSON: Yeah.

NADER: All right. The Pentagon is getting ready to go to war perhaps against Iraq, but certainly against the environment. According to "The Washington Post", the U.S. military is set to ask Congress to relax a whole series of environmental laws. The services want to conduct combat training and live wire exercises and not bother with incidentals, like the endangered species law, the Clean Air Act and the hazardous waste laws that could be in the way.

Nor do they want to worry about having to clean up the pollution and toxins, including unexploded shells left behind. The Pentagon and its big corporate contractors on these military reservations have already made a huge and costly mess of the environment over the decades. And that's when the corporations and military brass were supposed to obey the regulations. Imagine what they can do with a free hand, Tucker.

CARLSON: Look, Ralph, training is important. It saves the lives of soldiers when they go into battle. Now I, too, share grave concerns about the future of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I want the spotted owl to have as much unimpeded land as it can use. But those are not the most important things in a time of war. Training is the most important thing.

NADER: Just remember you don't want our military to destroy what it is supposed to be protecting. And the water underground, which is contaminated by a lot of these toxins, the air, and the unexploded ordinance in the -- no, in other words, look, they got along with it without these exemptions for years. We're the most powerful military in the world. They can adjust to the environmental laws.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Ralph, you're making it sound like rural Cambodia. Unexploded ordinance? Like they're leaving landmines behind? Come on. It is the U.S. military. I mean, please.

NADER: It is a matter of record. By the way, you know these military reservations are 25 times more than the size of Connecticut. You're talking about a lot of land here.

CARLSON: That's an interesting fact. I'm not sure what it means. I'll keep it in mind, though.

Readers of "The New York Times" this morning discovered what viewers of CROSSFIRE have known for months. The Al Sharpton for president campaign is more than a sideshow; it's a colossal problem for Democrats. Despite the Democratic Party's slogans about diversity, Sharpton is its only black presidential candidate. Which means he could win the South Carolina primary and arrive in the Democratic convention in Boston with delegates and a prime speaking role.

No matter what he does, Sharpton's fellow Democrats will be terrified to criticize him. They're afraid of Al Sharpton, but the feeling is not mutual. Over the weekend, Sharpton called on party Chairman Terry McAuliffe to resign, questioned Senator John Kerry's record on race relations, and had this to say about former trial lawyer and current presidential candidate Senator John Edward: "This guy got rich fighting for the regular guy, so I'm going to ask him at the debates, name one regular guy you fought for that you didn't get paid for."

Which is a great question. And notice the mention of the debates. Al Sharpton is going to be in them. Thanks to him, it's going to be a fun campaign.

NADER: It sure is. The votes Al Sharpton gets are going to overwhelmingly come from the Democratic Party, unlike my votes.

CARLSON: I like that.

NADER: My votes for -- my votes came -- half of the people who voted for me who would not have voted, 25 percent would have voted for Bush, and more would have voted for Gore.

CARLSON: And I'm not attack your voters, Ralph. But you've got to admit that some of the people who voted for you weren't aware that there was this thing called "voting" before you ran.

NADER: Yeah. We tried to get out over a million votes.

CARLSON: Yeah. Well good for you.

NADER: wait until you get Al Sharpton on this program. You're going to see how sharp a debater he is.

CARLSON: Al Sharpton has been on this program many times. We are proud to have him. He is a true Democrat. He speaks what most Democrats are afraid to say.

NADER: And you're rooting for him, right?

CARLSON: I am absolutely rooting for him. Plus he loves CROSSFIRE.

NADER: All right. OK. Remember the war on crooked accounting? It has been a little slow getting started, but the new Accounting Industry Oversight Board had its first meeting last week and made some very important decisions. Such as they voted themselves annual salaries of $452,000 each a year and even more for their chair. That's $52,000 a year more than the president of the United States makes and almost $300,000 a year more than fed chair Alan Greenspan makes.

It is more than three times what the chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission makes. By the way, it is still Harvey Pitt. He resigned in November, but he's still on the job.

CARLSON: I'm not going to defend that -- you know $475,000 a year -- but I have to say this story ought to make you reassess your world view, your whole political philosophy that the call for a new government agency or panel or working group in response to every problem always winds up with groups of people voting themselves $475,000 a year. It's just axiomatic. That's what happens.

NADER: That's because of Congress. For the first time in American history, they allowed public officials to vote themselves salaries comparable to the private sector. Those big shot accountant executives that caused the problem the first place. Now they can make a transition into Washington without losing...

CARLSON: But Ralph, not to get too deep on you here on cable, but it is the nature of government, OK? Government always makes itself bigger; it always works to the benefit of those who work in it. I think it is time to rethink your sort of affection for -- your sort of naive view of government.

NADER: It is the nature of corporate government. The big corporations got this through. You know that. They got it through the Senate and then they got it through the House.

But you can never understand how corporations take over government. All you can understand is how government allegedly takes over corporations.

CARLSON: So government does something, bad but you blame corporations. OK.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Speaking of, the Democrats spent the weekend signaling they'll take every possible opportunity to obstruct President Bush's tax cut. We'll debate that next. Also, Joe Lieberman gets into the presidential race. Is it all downhill from here?

And later, you get sick, the lawyers profit. Is this fair? That is our final debate. More with Ralph Nader. It's going to be a great show. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to our once in a lifetime Ralph Nader edition of CROSSFIRE. Over the weekend, President Bush declared "We cannot be satisfied until every corporate wrongdoer is held to account and every part of our economy is strong and everyone who wants to work can find a job." Unfortunately, Democrats have already appointed themselves the job of obstructing the president's every move. Stepping into the CROSSFIRE tonight to debate it: former Undersecretary of Commerce Robert Shapiro. He's now a fellow with the Brookings Institution and a columnist for "Slate." And with him is Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute and the Club for Growth.

(APPLAUSE)

NADER: All right, Mr. Moore. I have a question for you. Obviously, the president's tax cuts are not designed just to cut taxes. They're designed to create jobs. The American Society...

STEPHEN MOORE, CLUB FOR GROWTH: I'm glad you got that part of it, Ralph.

NADER: Designed, designed. The American Society for Civil Engineers just put out a report card of the crumbling works in our country. $1.3 trillion will be needed to deal with repairing bridges, transit, aviation airports, schools, drinking water systems, waste water systems, dams, solid waste, hazardous waste, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) water waste and energy.

Now wouldn't this money be better used, and wouldn't it be decentralized throughout all America, if we launched a public works project to repair our country? And to do what Jerry Wilson (ph), the CEO in Portland, Oregon once said in "The New York Times," restore the basic capital for our public enterprise and private enterprise systems? That would create jobs everywhere in the cities, in the rural areas, in the suburbs.

MOORE: All right I get it.

NADER: OK?

MOORE: First of all, Ralph, thank you again for running for president in 2000. I have to run...

NADER: Get to the point, Steve. Get to the point.

MOORE: Look, it is not surprising that these engineering firms that are going to get these huge contracts are in favor of more spending. But all we have seen over the last two years, the only part of the economy that's been growing over the last two years, Ralph, is government. We have seen a huge expansion of federal spending, but private sector spending is falling.

So we don't need more government spending. In fact, we need less of it. What we need is incentives for businesses to hire more workers. We need tax cuts to get the stock market up. By the way, the stock market already has responded favorably, just the idea of a dividend tax cut.

There are 80 million of us, Ralph, who own stocks. Some of them are your voters.

(CROSSTALK) ROBERT SHAPIRO, FMR. UNDERSECRETARY OF COMMERCE: Steve, government is bigger, and what party holds the White House and what party controls Congress?

MOORE: Well, that's true. I mean, both parties are spending money like drunken sailors. No doubt about it.

NADER: Steve, who's going to repair it? The private business will not repair all this public works. They're not going repair clinics and schools and libraries. Wait, just let me finish. They're not going to do that.

You know from your historical background, Steve, that our country was built with these kinds of public infrastructures that facilitated private enterprise. So who is going to build crumbling infrastructures that Americans experience every day?

MOORE: What you are endorsing, Ralph, is what I call the Japan economic model. Japan has been in a depression for 10 years. They have paved over that entire country with concrete public works programs and it hasn't got than country out of a depression. We don't want to use the Japan model. We want to use the Ronald Reagan model, which is tax cuts to stimulate the economy. And then when we do that, by the way, Ralph, we'll have enough money for the infrastructure improvements that you want to see.

CARLSON: Now Robert Shapiro, people -- we have been talking about this for four minutes already, and nobody has thrown out the charge -- Ralph has not thrown out the charge this is a tax cut for the rich. I'm assuming you will. I want to beat you to it.

I want to read you from a Larry Lindsey op-ed from "The New York Times" the other day. Larry, former economic adviser to the president. "The tax cut is almost exactly proportional to taxes paid. Under current law, families making more than $200,000 would pay 45 percent of the income tax, will get 40 percent of the tax cut. Families making less than $100,000 will pay 28 percent of the income tax this year and will get 34 percent of the tax cut. Not only that. Bush's plan would provide bigger tax cut for middle income families."

The bottom line is you get back what you pay. And if you're rich, you get back a little bit less than you pay.

SHAPIRO: Well, no. The bottom line is that the one part of the tax code where high-income people pay a disproportionate share, which is to say the income -- the personal income tax is cut, while the real burden or most working people comes from the payroll tax, and that's not cut. But, you know, the distributional issue is not the key issue.

You know, I don't know whether the problem with this program is that it is shameless or that it's reckless, but it is clearly both. It is shameless because they call it a stimulus, when even the administration says in a year it will create 190,000 jobs. In the Clinton administration, we created 200,000 jobs a month for eight years. So it has almost no stimulus... (CROSSTALK)

SHAPIRO: And it is also reckless. And it's also reckless because it increases the deficit, which reduces business investment, which reduces productivity.

CARLSON: Wait. One charge at a time. Mr. Shapiro, your fellow Democrats -- you actually, to your credit, gave a fairly, no more correct, but certainly more sophisticated analysis than most Democrats. But Senator Daschle, Mr. Gephardt, among others, are getting up and saying this say tax cut for the rich.

I want to show you one other really interesting statistic which gets right to the heart of it. This is from the Treasury Department. Distribution of income taxes: income, $100,000 or more, people who make that pay 72 percent of taxes now, after they still pay 73.

SHAPIRO: That's interesting because, you know, it is $100,000 or more. Why don't we look at the top one percent, $500,000 or more.

CARLSON: But wait, that's not rich enough for you? I mean, wow, you're really...

SHAPIRO: No, in fact it's not. Because, in fact, this tax cut is weighted not to the upper middle class but to the very, very, very rich. In fact, to the top two-tenths of one percent, who receive 15,000 times as much of a tax cut as an average American family. And that's from the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institute.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: So the $100,000...

CARLSON: So that's not rich enough for you? All your friends are much richer than that. I think I know what you mean.

(CROSSTALK)

SHAPIRO: It is not rich enough for George Bush, who wants to give most of the benefit to the top two-tenths of one percent, not to the top five percent, which is $100,000.

NADER: By the way, there is something of a job creation in this plan. It is so complex. Deemed dividends, what do you think of that one? Try that in a sound bite. It is so complex it is going to create more jobs for tax lawyers and accountants.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: The dividend tax is easy, you pay zero. What's hard about that?

NADER: Can we put the Gallup poll up? OK. This is what the American people think of Bush's tax cut. Fifty-six percent: it favors the rich; 24 percent: middle class; two percent: it favors the poor. When Bush's first tax cut was enacted in June 2001, the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent. It is now six percent. 2.2 million more people out of work. I ask you, Stephen Moore, don't you think one way to stimulate consumer demand, which will stimulate supply side activity, is to raise the minimum wage in real terms to where it was in 1968 when the economy was half as large per capita?

MOORE: Ralph, we didn't have to increase the minimum wage in the 1980s. You know why? Incomes went up so fast, the minimum wage became irrelevant. That's what we have to do right now, get jobs back.

Now you mention this idea about how the rich are getting a huge portion of the tax cut. Guess what? When you look at the people who are paying the highest income tax bracket, the people that apparently Rob doesn't like, he doesn't want to give tax cuts to those folks, two out of every three of those people are small business owners, Ralph. You cannot have more jobs without employers. You got to give employers an incentive too hire; this plan does that.

SHAPIRO: I miss the days when Republicans cared about business investment. When Republicans...

MOORE: This is small business investment.

SHAPIRO: This is not.

MOORE: Getting rid of the dividend tax cut?

SHAPIRO: This is not pro business investment. It will raise long-term interest rates by increasing the deficit. It will also raise long-term interest rates by making it more expensive to invest, by reducing retained earnings, which go directly to investment in favor of dividends.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: How much do (UNINTELLIGIBLE) get?

(CROSSTALK)

SHAPIRO: In fact, long-term interest rates have come down almost not at all. Despite an 80 percent cut in short-term rates, long-term rates have come down only 20 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: He dodged the question. Millions of people are making less today in real dollars than they made in 1968, in 1973.

MOORE: And the way to solve that problem is through tax cuts that puts America back to work.

NADER: The way is to restore their minimum wage to at least what it was in 1968.

MOORE: If we have your program, there will be no jobs, Ralph.

CARLSON: OK. Speaking of programs, ours has to take a quick commercial break. We'll be right back.

President Bush isn't the only one with an economic plan. Ralph Nader and our guests will be right back. Later, Joe Lieberman makes it even harder to tell the difference between the U.S. Senate's Democratic Caucus and the feel for the presidential primaries.

And is the prescription for high medical bills as simple as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) several million lawyers and call us in the morning? Of course it is. We'll debate it anyway. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to the Ralph Nader edition of CROSSFIRE. A new poll shows President Bush has a sales job to do on his jobs and growth plan. Only 42 percent of those responding to a new CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll favor the president's plan. Thirty-seven percent are opposed and 21 percent say they are unsure. Tonight we address that 21 percent.

In the CROSSFIRE are former Undersecretary of Commerce Robert Shapiro and Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth. And still with us on the left, as we alluded to earlier, is former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Well, Mr. Shapiro, we talked -- you have talked in fairly harsh terms about the president's plan. Let's just talk very quickly, because there is not a whole lot to say, about the plan put forth by the House Democrats. The centerpiece of which -- and I'm not making this up -- is the idea that every person in America ought to get a check for $300.

Is this going to stimulate the economy? They don't even make the case. It's just a pure pander, a pure payoff to voters. It's about the most vulgar thing you can imagine. You can't defend that, can you?

SHAPIRO: Sure I can defend it. It is a one-year stimulus. The notion here is that the economy will grow stronger if there is more demand. And the way to increase demand is to put money in the hands of people who will spend it. That is, people who don't have a lot of discretionary income, and that's average people.

It is a one-year stimulus. I think it is a good insurance policy against another dip in the economy. The fact is, you know, the National Bureau of Economic Research still won't say that the recession is over. They said -- they say they're not sure. That, in fact, the economy could go down again. It is an insurance policy.

As a one-year program, I think it has...

MOORE: These tax rebates, they didn't work for President Ford, they didn't work for Carter, they didn't work for Bush two years ago. Why do we keep thinking tax rebates are going to work? You have to cut tax rates to give incentives for businesses to hire and for people to work.

SHAPIRO: Well, in fact, what you need to do is -- you're right that the core of the problem...

MOORE: All right. He wants to cut tax rates.

SHAPIRO: No. That the core of the problem is to get business investing again and that requires two things. That requires lower drops (ph) in real long-term interest, which we do not have. And it requires...

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: Steve obviously thinks rebates works for General Motors. That's OK.

Now, the prospects for the Bush plan getting through are almost nil. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill said that the Bush plan will do little or nothing to improve the economy. Senator Voinovich, Senator Grassley, the senators from Maine and the senator chief (ph) in Rhode Island are all very skeptical. This thing is not going to go through.

What makes you think it's going to go through, when the whole lobbying power of Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, and all those giant Silicon Valley companies who don't want pressure from their shareholders to put out dividends -- we're going to fight this.

MOORE: Ralph, you should be in favor of companies paying out the...

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: No. What is your political prospect to this getting through?

MOORE: This is a populous proposal to make sure that companies are giving the money to the shareholders. So you and I should agree on that. But in terms of why it's going to happen -- and I'll tell you. For the last week, the Democrats on Capitol Hill: Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, have been hyperventilating. And the reason they're hyperventilating is because they know if President Bush -- I should say when he gets this plan passed it almost guarantees him reelection.

It is going to help stimulate the economy in the short and long term.

And once he's solved the economic problems...

NADER: But his own Republicans are against -- he's got leading Republicans -- Grassley is chair of the...

MOORE: I will bet you right now he get all the Republicans in the House and only a couple in the Senate won't go along with it, like John McCain. But he's going to pick up seven or eight Democrats in the Senate because they're 19 out there....

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: How about some body else?

Wait a minute. Robert Shapiro, we're almost out of time. But, as you know, because you worked there during the Clinton years, Clinton people always held up Alan Greenspan. Greenspan is for -- he's our -- you don't hear Greenspan much. He endorsed the first Bush tax cut. I think he had lunch with the president today.

If he comes out and one way or another says I'm for this, will you say, You know what? I was wrong all along because I...

SHAPIRO: No, I will not say that....

CARLSON: Why not?

SHAPIRO: The fact of the matter is that the chairman of the federal reserve never comes out publicly against a president's economic program. There is not one case.

CARLSON: He came out against Clinton's program.

SHAPIRO: He did not. He supported it. He supported it vociferously against the Republicans.

CARLSON: So he's a phony?

(CROSSTALK)

SHAPIRO: He's not a phony. That's just the way the relationship between the Fed and the presidency works.

CARLSON: OK.

Well, unfortunately we're out of time. Robert Shapiro, Stephen Moore, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, he would be vice president but for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. That's what he thinks anyway. Will Joe Lieberman have any better luck if he heads the ticket next time?

And then the people responsible for sky high doctors' bills and it isn't necessarily the doctors. It is, of course, the lawyers. We'll tell you more. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University here in downtown Washington.

Senator Joe Lieberman wants to be your president. He officially entered the race today. But he is running away from his own party as well as for the White House? Does he have any shot at all and can he convince his party that he's not just a Republican in disguise? To answer those and other questions we're joined by Democratic consultant Kiki McLean.

Now Kiki, I'm so glad you and Ralph can be together again. In fact, if it weren't for Ralph, you might be secretary of agriculture.

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: That's true. I could have a good job this cycle.

CARLSON: But I want you to -- of all the explanations I've seen for the debacle of 2000, this is perhaps the most poignant and not to say pathetic. Joe Lieberman, in "The New York Times" this summer, here's what he said, trying to explain why he and Mr. Gore lost.

"The people versus the powerful," that is the slogan, "unfortunately left that track and gave a different message, which may have been caused by the pressure that the Nader campaign was giving us. But I think it was not the new Democratic approach."

In other words, our rhetoric was terrible and it didn't work, but we had to do it because Ralph Nader made us. Isn't this the worst kind of whining and don't you want to apologize on the behalf of Mr. Lieberman to Mr. Nader?

I got to tell you Tucker, and with all due respect to Ralph here, I have to say that you and I both know that Joe Lieberman got more votes than Dick Cheney for vice president of the United States and it would probably be Joe Lieberman tonight who was in an undisclosed secure location somewhere if it weren't for Mr. Nader.

So, in fact, what I would suggest to you....

CARLSON: But the whining -- you're not embarrassed at all about that?

MCLEAN: I don't think Joe Lieberman whines. I think Joe Lieberman is a thoughtful man who's not afraid to talk about what he's thinking about, to talk about what he's trying to understand.

I think that's why he's a great candidate for president; because I think he's somebody who is independent in the way he thinks and not afraid to talk about what he thinks. I think he's somebody who believes in ideas and it's important to have that kind of dialogue. And I think you would have to agree, of all the candidates you know, this man has a level of integrity that is unquestionable.

NADER: Well, here we go. Personal point of privilege, Kiki.

MCLEAN: Well, you're going to have to have a lot of privilege.

NADER: It was clearly not Tennessee; It was clearly not Arkansas, it was clearly not the southern Democrats in Florida; it was clearly not his wooden performance on the debates; It was just all those Green Party voters.

But anyway... MCLEAN: You know, the amazing thing is some day Ralph, you'll want to take credit for the votes you siphoned off. But that's a whole other inside baseball game debate.

NADER: Let's ask a simple question.

MCLEAN: Sure.

NADER: You know, Joe Lieberman is my senator. He's personally a very nice person. He's very polite. But he's kind of -- sometimes he's a cruel (ph) man with a smile.

But let me just ask you this: I've never seen...

MCLEAN: This must be a very unique experience you have with him.

NADER: You know, I mean, has Joe Lieberman ever seen a weapons system he doesn't like. On four key areas, what is the difference between Joe Lieberman and George W. Bush? Foreign policy, military policy, the insurance companies and globalization.

MCLEAN: OK. Joe Lieberman believes that we ought to have a strong United States. Joe Lieberman doesn't believe we ought to go out with unilateral policy. Joe Lieberman believes that people need health insurance and he's fighting to make sure that we can get our kids health insurance.

NADER: Universal health insurance?

MCLEAN: That's a big difference from what George W. Bush.

NADER: Universal health insurance?

MCLEAN: And in the end, Ralph, Joe Lieberman believes that the solution may not be absolutely black and white; that we've got to find the right answer.

And you know what? There are all kinds of positions you can take in life and never see any progress. But he's somebody who is about making progress.

NADER: Foreign policy?

MCLEAN: Foreign policy -- Joe Lieberman...

NADER: Different than George Bush?

MCLEAN: Joe Lieberman believes in several areas, like I just said, about the war on Iraq. You can't move unilaterally but you have to take a strong stand on our national defense and on our foreign policy. It's important.

CARLSON: You know, Kiki, I know you indicated a minute ago that Joe Lieberman has -- what's the term you used? --- progressed. I think that's the...

MCLEAN: He believes in making progress. He believes in actually making things happen.

CARLSON: Yes, or changes his mind on issues.

MCLEAN: This is a guy who as a attorney general decided it was important to fight deadbeat dads and make sure moms got....

CARLSON: Well who doesn't think that? Come on. No, Kiki, please....

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: Here is the difference. Here is the difference. Not only does he believe it ,he did something about it, Tucker. He didn't just sit on your show and talk about it.

CARLSON: That's like coming out for toddler.

Now I want you to respond to this quote, however. This is from "USA Today." Nobody says Lieberman didn't say this. March 10, 1995.

Lieberman said, "The DLC has no specific position on the review of affirmative action under way by the White House, but he said he feels group preferences are," quote, "patently unfair."

So, the guy's against affirmative action. So am i. But I'm not running for president as a Democrat, am I?

MCLEAN: Here's is what he has said about affirmative action. And here is the position he's taking; he's been very consistent about this.

There were, as you know, Supreme Court rulings which question the constitutionality about how some affirmative action measures were being enacted. And he agreed that there were some question.

He supported President Clinton's review of affirmative action. President Clinton came out in the end and said, We need to mend it, not end it; We need to fix it so it works right, so the opponents like you can't tear it totally apart. And that's the position he's had all along. Pretty simple.

CARLSON: So he hasn't changed a bit.

MCLEAN: He's been very consistent. It's killing, Tucker. You know, anybody I support for president, Tucker can't stand it.

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: Al Sharpton is likely to siphon votes away from Joe Lieberman, if Joe Lieberman gets the nomination.

MCLEAN: What will happen? He'll have to work that much harder to get that many more so it doesn't happen again.

NADER: Now let me ask you this. What do you think of Al Sharpton's candidacy? Mark Green thinks Al Sharpton is a very skilled debater, if he gets on a debate.

MCLEAN: Yes.

NADER: What do you think of his candidacy and would you want him on the primary debates with the Democratic candidate?

MCLEAN: Well, I'll tell you what. That's a tactical issue and I'm not here as an official representative of the campaign.

NADER: No. It's a question. It's a question.

MCLEAN: I think it's important to have all kinds of people in the campaign because I think it moves the debate. I think it raises issues that may not get raised necessarily and think it's important.

He's obviously a skilled debater. He's an orator. He's an ordained minister, who is a professional preacher. That's an important skill in a campaign for a candidate.

NADER: So, if I ran again, would you -- would Joe Lieberman have me on the debates....

MCLEAN: I don't know about that. That's up to his campaign debate. I wouldn't be in favor of it but that's my personal opinion.

NADER: You wouldn't be in favor of it?

MCLEAN: I'd be...

NADER: You just said you want diversity of views.

MCLEAN: I think the chances are -- that's right.

I think the reality is, Ralph, you and I both know you have enough people following you and enough participants in the Green Party that probably makes your participation more legitimate.

CARLSON: Wait,be fore we break -- we're out of time. But you're going to run, then. Are you announcing here on the show...

NADER: I said "if."

MCLEAN: We could be making news.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Boy, we just -- we're making more news than we normally do.

MCLEAN: You know, Tucker, some day you'll come over from the dark side. It will be all right.

CARLSON: I don't think so. Kiki, thanks so much. We enjoy it. Appreciate it.

In a little bit, another of our delusional Canadian friends, and we have ,many gets to vent his frustrations. That's in our "Fireback" segment.

But next a sure cure for the high cost of going to doctor. Will Ralph Nader and the Democrats ever take the correct medicine? One of our questions. We'll ask it. we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. Doubtless many of you noticed your paychecks got smaller when the new year started as health insurance deductibles took and co-payments took another great leap forward or backward depending.

The year also started with surgeons in Pennsylvania and West Virginia going on strike to protest the absurdly high cost of malpractice insurance. Perhaps the prescription would be a cap on damage awards or even a surgical strike on trial lawyers. Wouldn't that be great?

We're going to operate on that now with our guests, attorney Joanne Doroshow who's with the Center for Justice and Democracy. And joining us from Macon, Georgia is Dr. Donald Palmisano, the president- elect of the American Medical Association.

NADER: Dr. Palmisano, let's lay the factual predicate for this controversy very briefly. The Harvard School of Public Health Physicians estimated a number of years ago that about 80,000 Americans die every year from gross negligence and malpractice in hospitals. Not counting clinic and offices.

The health insurance industry, the malpractice insurance industry takes about $6 billion in premiums from physicians in this country. And the payout is about $4 billion or so.

Now I want to put the -- on the screen the first statistic that is relevant to this question and your role as the forthcoming head of the American Medical Association. Statistics show in September 1990, 5.1 percent of the doctors in the United States accounted for 54.2 percent of the number of malpractice payouts.

Please put the second statistic on if you will. "Only 7.6 percent (one out of 13) of those doctors who have had two or more malpractice payouts against them have been disciplined in the last 12 years."

Now, you will be the head of the biggest doctor's group in the United States. Why aren't you spending enormous energy backing up the majority of good doctors in this country to crack down on the bad doctors or the doctors who are so totally incompetent in giving their patients decent and safe treatment?

I don't see you lobbying the state legislatures on that, beefing up the state licensing boards, lobbying Congress, putting ads on TV. Instead you're trying to take way the rights of your patients from having their full day in court.

DR. DONALD PALMISANO, PRESIDENT-ELECT, AMA: Is there a question in here?

NADER: That's it.

PALMISANO: Well, thank you for the opportunity. I can't see the statistics but I did hear you.

First off that study showed that there was no correlation between payments on claims and negligence. And one of the lead authors, Troy Brennan (ph), has recently affirmed that to me. There is no correlation there. There is only correlation between disability.

The current broken medical liability system does not identify negligence. All it does is cause many suits to be filed. We have escalating awards and we know that 70 to 80 percent are closed no with no payment whatsoever. This system is not very effective. It does not enhance safety.

The American Medical Association supports strong medical boards. And if there is a doctor who is bad, we want to remove that doctor. We have to define what a bad doctor is. Certainly being sued -- 75 percent of the obstetricians in this country that have been sued. They can expect to be sued 2.5 times in their career.

This system is broken. We say it. The American public says it. President Bush says it. Secretary Thompson says it and this study that they published at HHS.gov affirms what I'm saying. Thanks.

NADER: The basis of the malpractice crisis malpractice. You didn't answer the question. What is the AMA going to do root out the bad and incompetent and sometimes actually crooked doctors?

CARLSON: Wait, before you answer, Doctor, let me go to Joanne here. And possibly the basis of the malpractice crisis is of course greed. Greed of the trial lawyers. But I want to put a human face on that greed. I want to show you an ad put out by a doctor's group that shows what happens when slick greedy trial lawyers run doctors out of town. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(AUDIO GAP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... victim to a crisis in health care. My husband was in an accident. He was rushed to the hospital but the surgeons who could have helped him were no longer there. Lawsuits against doctors and hospitals have made it too expensive for them to practice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: The man's name was Tony Dice (ph). He was in his mid 40s, he two kids. It was last summer in Mississippi. He was in an accident and the nearest neurosurgeon was six hours away. Why? Because neurosurgeons left Mississippi in huge numbers because of massive malpractice insurance costs. It's absolutely true. JOANNE DOROSHOW, CENTER FOR JUSTICE & DEMOCRACY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there is an insurance problem. There are a lot of people, a lot of doctors out there that are being price gouged by the insurance industry.

But the solution to their problem and all the other insurance problems is to reform the insurance industry. What you don't want do is take away the rights of people like Steven Olson (ph), who is a brain damaged and blind child in California who requires 24-hour care, who is a result of a horrible cap on damages, a cruel law in California. His family has a fraction of the amount of money they need to take care of that child.

CARLSON: Joanne, the idea -- I want to show you a -- I think, a fascinating chart. The only interesting insurance chart I've ever seen that shows the difference -- the fact that trial lawyers are behind the premium spike. Florida, general surgeon pays 110 grand a year in 2000, $174,000 a year purely in insurance. In California since tort reform, he pays $57,000.

DOROSHOW: First of all, in California there is the strongest insurance regulatory law in the country which has kept premiums down to the extent they are down.

But you look at a situation like Missouri, which has the similar law as California and has been in effect for 17 years, a hard cap on damages, lots of tort reform, they're suffering one of the worst insurance crises for doctors in that state's history. So much that the governor has appointed a task force to deal with it.

The cap on damages and so-called tort restrictions are not the answer. The only answer is to reform the insurance industry and I do not know why people like Dr. Palmisano and the rest of the AMA do not join with consumer groups like ours to advocate for strong reforms of the insurance industry...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMISANO: What we need to do is to look at the statistics. Pennsylvania Medical Society just did a study, a critique of the Center for Justice and Democracy, Robert Hunt (ph) and Joanne Doroshow study and it points out that the methodology is flawed.

Caps do work. When you talk about caps, you need to talk about a cap like California that is on noneconomic. You get all the economic damages. And when they talk about a child who has been injured and an award has been given and they frequently say it has been reduced -- in one case, the child got $40 million. It's sad that anybody has in injury. But the child got $40 million in California for economic damages.

What we need is a system that allows patients to have doctors. We don't want doctors that retire early, limit their practice or move to states where they have stable liability climates. We want all of Americans to have doctors. NADER: Dr. Palmisano, caps are extremely cruel. That child that Ms. Doroshow pointed out got a $7.1 million verdict for pain and suffering, his life expectancy, 60 years. His parents have to take care of him now 24 hours a day, and it was cut back because of that vicious statutory cap to $250,000. I met that...

PALMISANO: Well, that's on the non-economic...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMISANO: And again, I don't have the case and I'm having trouble hearing the name. But the case I described in California got $40 million in economic damages. And this is what legislators have to decide. Do you want to have jackpot liability, unlimited awards and have the rest of the population without doctors? Would you rather have a lawyer available to be suing for unlimited damages, or would you rather have a doctor when you need to deliver a baby or...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The average trial lawyer gets half -- or the average plaintiff gets half. The average trial lawyer gets a third of the settlement.

DOROSHOW: And they get nothing if they lose the case.

CARLSON: But do you think it's fair if a child is gravely injured through the fault of a doctor, why should some trial lawyer with his own private plane get a third of the settlement? That's outrageous.

DOROSHOW: These cases are extremely expensive to bring, and that's why so few people do sue. Only one in eight people who are actually injured by medical malpractice bring even a claim for compensation. They have to put up huge amounts of money to prove these cases.

NADER: This whole thing is bogus. Here's the key thing. You take the entire premiums doctors have to pay to those insurance companies. Not only is it less than what we spend on dog food, $6 billion, but if you divided $6 billion by all the practicing doctors in America and spread the risk, they would pay less than $9,000 a year in malpractice insurance premiums. This is a manipulation by overclassified medical specialties in order to put it to the obstetrician to get that kind of thing.

CARLSON: Dr. Palmisano, you get the last word.

PALMISANO: Thank you very much. Well, it's important in medicine to use science, and if somebody has a claim you need to validate it. I would tell you to go to the Medical Society of New Jersey and see the latest study by Tellinghas (ph) regarding that caps do work, $250,000 non-economic cap. Go to the Pennsylvania study, go to the hhs.gov Web site.

What we need to do is have reasoned debate. So if Mr. Nader, Miss Dorishow, they have figures. Let other experts look at it. What we're saying is their analysis is not credible. What we're concerned about is the patient. Let's not forget the patient. Let's make sure we have doctors. You can't go to the store later and say I'll take six obstetricians and 15 neurosurgeons. They don't come that way.

NADER: To prevent 80,000 death a year by bad doctors...

CARLSON: Dr. Palmisano, thank you very much. Thank you very much.

NADER: Joanne Doroshow, thank you.

CARLSON: I'm sorry that we're out of time.

Next, it's your chance to fire back at us. A lot of tonight's e- mail, as you would imagine, is aimed at Ralph Nader. We'll let him answer some very disgruntled Democrats next. They're always disgruntled; tonight, more than usual. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for our "Fireback" segment. We invite you to tell us what you think. Still some hard feelings from the 2000 election, apparently. Ralph Nader has been joining us tonight. Some people are still mad at you, Ralph. First up, Jack Rose in Monterey, Tennessee writes: "Mr. Nader, how do you justify allowing the Democrats to lose in 2000 when you knew you could not win?" Have I thanked you for that, by the way?

NADER: Yes. Many, many times.

CARLSON: Thank you. Thanks again.

NADER: When you're building a new political movement, it is not just the next November. It's for the long run. That's what this country needs, a viable third party.

OK. "I never really liked a lot of Ralph Nader's positions until he was recently on your show and said we should raise wages to at least $8 an hour," which is an inflation-adjusted terms what it was in 1968. "I think...

CARLSON: I may have heard you say that, yes.

NADER: "I think he's right, because if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you give him," or her, "a fishing pole, he can eat indefinitely." That's true.

CARLSON: But you know, I think the original...

NADER: I'm going to get the fishermen's vote.

CARLSON: I think the original aphorism is a little different. He can eat indefinitely. I don't think that was in the original one. But I like it. Bram Cohen in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, foreign country, writes: "Canadians are awfully sick and tired by all your insults. I only wish we could cut the 49th parallel and send you adrift to and beyond the Gulf of Mexico. Stay at home and leave us alone."

You know, that's pretty hostile, Ralph. And I think we need to talk about adding Canada if not to the axis of evil, at least to the axis of unpleasantness.

NADER: Now, wait a minute. Over 10 years ago, I co-authored a book called "Canada First," showing all the great ways Canada has pioneered. They gave us credit unions, for example, universal health insurance. Keep Canada independent.

CARLSON: And John Candy. See, this is why I knew -- yes.

NADER: It was a best-seller. OK.

Next one. "Everyone should read Ralph Nader's book 'Crashing the Party,' and then pass it on to at least 10 of their friends. As Americans come to realize which members of Congress literally sell their votes to the big corporations over and over again, a groundswell of anti-corruption will occur." You can't possibly disagree with that.

CARLSON: I would love to see -- oh, there is the cover of the book. "Crashing the Party." You know, but Ralph, I would like to see what a groundswell of anti-corruption would look like.

NADER: It would look like being tough on corporate crime, from the grassroots prosecutors all the way to ex-Harkin audit director George W. Bush.

CARLSON: Guillotine,, Ralph.

Yes, sir, a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Josh Kolsky (ph) from Rockville, Maryland. I wanted to ask Mr. Nader if he's going to run for president in 2004. If you do, I'll quit my job to work on your campaign.

CARLSON: The person has spoken.

NADER: Yes. It's too early to say. Sometime later in the year I'll decide.

CARLSON: Well, you know ...

NADER: Thank you for your offer.

CARLSON: Ralph, we've only got about, say, 20 seconds left, but that's enough time for you to say, you know what, I've heard the people, they've spoken and I'm going to bow to their will. I'm going to run.

NADER: You think I'm going to give you that?

CARLSON: Yes, I do.

NADER: No. No, no.

CARLSON: We've got 10 seconds left.

NADER: No, focus on Joe Lieberman tonight. It's his day.

CARLSON: You don't want to spoil it for Joe Lieberman?

NADER: Yes. From the progressive left, I'm Ralph Nader. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE. "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins right now. See you tomorrow.

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