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CNN CROSSFIRE

SHOW

Aired April 24, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE.

On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala.

On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE:

He thinks you need another tax cut.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: We can do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles in our way.

ANNOUNCER: Like fellow Republicans and Congressional Democrats and the cost of a war?

Plus, a few notes on how to survive a brush with the P.C. police and still come out singing.

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live, from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The George W. Bush economic devastation tour stopped in Ohio today. But the state's Republican senator says, Read his lips: no big Bush tax cut.

But first, you don't have to read my lips, just follow along with the best political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

Well, two of his fellow Republican senators today criticized Rick Santorum. He is, of course, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. He recently compared a committed adult gay relationship to incest. But Santorum, who also used the recent interview to muse openly about what he called -- and I'm quoting the senator her -- "man on child and man on dog" -- unquote -- relationships. Santorum was praised today, oddly enough, by the Christian Coalition for those comments. But strangely silent in all of this has been President George W. Bush. I suppose Mr. Bush can't decide this week whether he feels like being a uniter or a divider.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN CO-HOST: You know, I'd like to say, Paul, what he actually -- what Senator Santorum actually said. What he said was that if the Supreme Court cannot make rules on sodomy, they can't make rules on adultery and a lot of other things involving social conduct. That's what he actually said.

Now, the reason this was taken out of context may be because the interviewer for the Associated Press, Lara Jordan, is the wife of Jim Jordan, who is a -- can I finish my sentence -- who was the campaign manager for Senator John Kerry, a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Do you see the connection there?

BEGALA: Does Mary Matalin all of a sudden become a Democrat because her husband is James Carville? Is James Carville -- no, you can't smear good reporter for that. She's a good reporter. Santorum said a bigoted thing.

NOVAK: She was a lousy reporter on that job.

BEGALA: You should not smear that woman. No.

NOVAK: Senator John Edwards has spent most of his life in courtrooms as a trial lawyer, suing businessmen and making himself a multimillionaire. But in his hurried trip to win the Democratic presidential nomination, he may find himself in court soon.

The Justice Department, the AP reports, is investigating donations made by employees of the Little Rock, Arkansas law firm who were promised they would be reimbursed by the their boss and that is against the law. An Edwards spokeswoman said -- quote -- "We're glad that the appropriate authorities are following up on this mess."

Yes, I'll bet John Edwards is really glad.

BEGALA: You know what I'm not glad about? I'm not glad that we have a Justice Department run by a political hack, John Ashcroft, that's leaking stories like this. If there's a crime, they should go and investigate the crime and then report out on it. Instead, they're leaking these stories just to damage John Edwards politically and it's outrageous.

NOVAK: Paul, do you realize how Clintonian -- how Clintonian that is? But gee, it should be Clintonian. You worked for Bill, didn't you?

BEGALA: And I love Bill Clinton. he was also trashed by a right wing prosecutor named Ken Starr. It's the same thing all over again.

NOVAK: In other words, break the law and then attack the people who want to investigate you for breaking the law.

BEGALA: First off, nobody alleges that John Edwards broke the law. Some people allege that some of the contributors...

NOVAK: He's investigated.

BEGALA: Let's investigate Bush for taking money from Enron. How about that?

Since -- all right. Since their lead singer said she was embarrassed that George W. Bush is from Texas -- and aren't we all? -- the Dixie Chicks have been the subject of slurs and slander and even censorship from the patriotic correct right wing.

But seen here wearing nothing but their battered reputations, the Chicks are plainly doing just fine. Their CD "Home" is No. 1 on the Billboard charts. I myself have bought three copies. It is great. And their concerts are sold out all across America. Besides, does anyone want to seem, say, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Ari Fleischer posing in the nude? I don't think so,

NOVAK: Or Paul Begala.

As a matter of fact, I never heard of the Dixie Chicks until this happened. I don't give a damn what they think -- I don't give a damn what they think about anything, particularly not the Iraqi war. And I'll tell you something, if they are so aggrieved -- so aggreievd that somebody is criticizing them, that they have to take all their clothes off, could this be a publicity stunt?

BEGALA: That's a fair point. But they are great singers and a right wing corporation called Clear Channel Communication has censored them from their network and I think that's wrong. They have a full right to free speech or to take their clothes, which I fully endorse.

NOVAK: They're really -- they're really -- they're really experts on -- I'd like to get their views on the roadmap on Israel and Palestinian peace. We have to look forward to them on all these things.

BEGALA: On magazine covers may be something (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Democratic politicians were licking their chops about one tasty morsel in a generally unpalatable U.S. Senate menu for next year. They figure that first-term Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois was a sure loser.

Then bad news. Fitzgerald said he would not seek re-election.

Then, worse news. President Bush has asked the very popular former GOP Governor Jim Edgar to run for the Senate. And he may do it.

Edgar would be the overwhelming favorite to win, and chances for Democrats to recapture control of the Senate in next year's election look more remote than ever.

BEGALA: First, a word about Peter Fitzgerald from your home state of Illinois, a very conservative Republican. But I used to run into him at the Little League games all the time. He's a good dad and he's getting out for the right reasons.

But I also think he might also be a canary in a coal mine. He's in a swing state, Illinois. Bill Clinton carried it twice. Al Gore carried it. He knows Bush is going to lose in Illinois and lose nationally and he's just getting out while the getting's good.

NOVAK: Let me -- let me tell you something. Illinois is not a swing state anymore. It's a Democratic state. There are only two statewide Republicans elected there. It's going Democratic and the one guy who can bring it back is Jim Edgar. So don't evade the question, Mr. Begala. You're in big trouble in the Senate and this is bad news if Jim Edgar announces. You know that.

BEGALA: He's a quality candidate, but I think the Democrats will beat him.

NOVAK: Coming up, President Bush hits the road so you can keep more of your own money. We'll ask Ralph Nader and former Congressman Bob Walker what could possibly be wrong with that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The federal government today reported that first-time jobless claims have just hit their highest level in more than a year. Last week, another 455,000 of our fellow Americans were forced line up for state unemployment benefits.

Democrats say much of this economic devastation was caused by President Bush's tax cut for the rich, but Mr. Bush says what we really need is yet another tax cut for the rich.

To debate all this in the CROSSFIRE this afternoon, Bob Walker, former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania. And consumer advocate, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Thank you, gentlemen.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, tell me -- tell me it isn't true that at this advanced stage in your life, you've become a deficit hawk. That you believe, along with George Voinovich that a little tiny amount, percentage of the gross domestic product of this huge country and a deficit is going to somehow cause economic trouble? Isn't it -- tell us the truth. What's you're interested in is just lots more taxes. You don't care about the deficit do you?

RALPH NADER, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: No, I want the wealthy to pay their fair share.

NOVAK: You don't care about the deficit.

NADER: Two and a half million jobs lost since Bush took office, number one All kinds of cuts because of the low activity in the economy. Tuition increases, for example, cuts in healthcare, cuts in school budgets, cuts in environmental cleanup. NOVAK: Care about the deficit?

NADER: Yes. The deficit is increasing. It's $500 billion this year.

NOVAK: You care about the deficit?

NADER: Yes, you know why? You know why?

NOVAK: This...

NADER: Yes. Because it's like the inflation and increased interest rates. So what do we need another tax cut for the wealthy? The first one failed, didn't it in June 19 -- 2001.

Wealthy don't spend money. It isn't like they're waiting for more money to spend, Bob.

BEGALA: Congressman Walker, one of those people who cares desperately about the deficit is, of course, Republican Senator George Voinovich. Republican.

BOB WALKER, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Our president today fired up Air Force One, flew out to Ohio. Senator Voinovich was there to greet him on the tarmac, shook his hand warmly and said, No way, Jose. This is an abject failure by our president today to try to get Voinovich's support for his tax cut, wasn't it?

I think that what the president is making his case across the country, including in Ohio. But the fact is that the deficit is important, but the deficit can be solved by getting growth in the economy.

BEGALA: Right, but...

WALKER: And you cannot get growth in the economy by increasing spending and increasing taxes. And that's the program that the other side is offering.

In the case of George Voinovich and so on, he thinks that the tax cut should be $350 billion. The difference between 300 and $550 billion dollars is miniscule over a 10-year period. If you frontloaded the $350 billion, which I think they ought to do, that's the way in which you get a real tax cut.

NOVAK: Let the record show that Senator Voinovich left a loophole a mile wide because he said that if we had offsets on spending, he could go for the tax cut.

But Ralph Nader, a Democratic leader for the presidential nomination, Dick Gephardt, Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri has come out for a tax increase -- a tax increase. Not -- not a suspension of a tax, a tax increase. Does that make any sense in a -- in a fragile economy to say to the -- to the successful people, we want you to -- to -- to pay more taxes? NADER: It does make sense if it's a tax increase on corporations who are leaving $70 billion behind by going to Bermuda and escaping their citizenship.

Tax...

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: He'll argue his own point. I'm answering the question myself.

The point is that of the total tax revenues the federal government gets, corporations contribute now 7 percent. It's one of the lowest.

NOVAK: You didn't answer my question. Do you think people in the upper bracket should be paying more taxes?

NADER: Of course, because there's so many loopholes, so many shelters, so many escapees. And corporations are now quitting the United States and escaping taxes.

WALKER: The people who pay taxes are small business people. These wealthy people we keep talking about are people whose actual income is fairly large, because out of that they pay for salaries, they pay taxes, they pay expenses and so on, and they pay income taxes besides. Every time that we talk about this, what we are doing is talking about killing off small business in this country and I think it's absolutely appalling.

BEGALA: Bob Walker, I disagree with that argument, but you make it honorably and persuasively, and that's why I love you coming on the program.

Let me contrast that with a right wing group with which you're familiar called The Club For Growth, run by a very nice guy himself also, but they ran a vicious ad attacking Senator Voinovich. In fact, I think we've a copy of it here, showing the French flag flying behind George Voinovich of Ohio, who is an American patriot.

Is it right for President Bush's allies to be impugning the patriotism of people who disagree with him on taxes?

WALKER: Well, first of all, President Bush, I don't had anything to do with the ad.

BEGALA: These are his allies though.

WALKER: Yes but secondly, I don't think you ought to make this into a personality kind of thing. I don't think you ought to use personalities as a part of the...

NOVAK: You think Paul would use personality?

BEGALA: Not patriotism.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: I think we ought to, in this country, debate ideas, not people. And the bottom line is...

NADER: That's right.

WALKER: ...that the Club For Growth's idea is the right one.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: We ought to allow growth in the economy to put some of those people that we just talked about back to work. We don't need to use personalities to do that.

NOVAK: Go ahead, Ralph.

NADER: The way to put people back to work is to repair America, which is crumbling. Clinics, schools, public transit. A public works program creates jobs all over the country.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: The only way you do that is to create growth in the overall economy.

NADER: What about raising the minimum wage to the purchasing power of 1968. Would you favor that?

WALKER: What I -- what I think that the way you get the minimum wage up is to allow small business people the kind of income that will allow them to pay the wages that people deserve. And the way that you get there is by having the kinds of tax cuts that the president proposed.

NADER: Minimum wage is achieved by law.

WALKER: It's a bad law.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, you've always been a straight shooter and I want you to really put your cards on the table. What you want, you've always wanted, and your kind of people want is a redistribution of income from the people who are successful to the losers in the society. Isn't that what you want?

NADER: You know -- you know -- you know, Bob -- you know -- you have -- you -- Bob, you have a genius -- you have a genius of answering the question before you ask it.

NOVAK: I try. s speech today and more. NADER: Yes, I know.

NADER: Here's the key. Here's the key. I want -- I want the corporations to pay at least their fair share of taxes that tens of millions of Americans and small business whose don't have lobbies in Washington. You've got the treasury secretary's former corporation, CSX, the railroad, four years, $980 billion -- $980 million they made in profits, paid zero federal income tax and got over $100 million refund. Is that what you want to foster? Huh?

NOVAK: I don't want any income taxes.

NADER: But you want to big military budget. You want a big military budget. Who is going to pay for that, France?

BEGALA: We have less than a minute left. We'll come back to Ralph's point about investing in infrastructure. Why is it that our president thinks it's a good idea to spend our taxpayers' money rebuilding roads and bridges and hospitals and schools in Iraq but not America?

WALKER: Well, first of all -- first of all, we spend billions of dollars on all of those programs in this country. And there's no reason why we shouldn't.

But the fact is that local communities should be able to do that as well.

BEGALA: Bob, I'm sorry to interrupt you very quickly.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

NOVAK: What do you think of that news, Ralph?

NADER: Probably safer for him to turn himself in.

NOVAK: What do you think, bob?

WALKER: Well, I think it's a -- I think it's a great success. I mean, the rounding up of all these people that for years had a rein of terror in Iraq is a good thing for this nation, but also for the world.

BEGALA: I could not agree more. I think it's a wonderful piece of news.

By the way, a heck of a good piece of reporting by Chris Plante and the rest of the CNN team. I mean, praise them. But why hasn't Bush been able to translate these successes overseas at home? He can't get the own Republicans to support his tax bill, Bob. Why not?

WALKER: Well, Republican s-- Republicans have a tendency that when we're out doing policy shots we line up in a circle. And, you know, but -- and that's a problem. But I do think the president is going to have tremendous influence with Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Only Paul would think of a capture of Tariq Aziz and the failure to get the tax...

(CROSSTALK) NADER: When you have unused capacity in this country and low consumer demand, you don't cut tax on the wealthy. You generate public work.

NOVAK: All right. All right. OK. All right.

One of our viewers has figured out the Democratic Party's problem. We'll let him "Fireback" and save Paul Begala a lot of work in a little bit.

But next, we put the president's tax through our "Rapid Fire" treatment. Our guests -- our guest won't -- absolutely won't be allowed to filibuster.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: OK. We're going to go to Wolf Blitzer with breaking news.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

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