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CNN CROSSFIRE

House, Senate Agree to Pass Tax Package; Interview With Tony Blankley, Peter Fenn; Interview With Debbie Schlussel

Aired May 22, 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...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to signing the economic recovery bill soon.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: And two words: reckless, irresponsible.

ANNOUNCER: The tax battle is over, but how is Bush doing on the war on terrorism?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people, when confronted with the facts, will choose security over tax cuts.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Within a short period of time we're going to have about $4 billion at the state and local level.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, will the he-man game of golf ever be the same? Today, on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. And congratulations, you're getting another tax cut. You're also being protected from terrorists, and chances are you'll remember who to thank when November 2004 comes around: Dennis Kucinich. Just Kidding. But, right now, it's time for the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

President Bush went to Capitol Hill this morning to thank lawmakers for accomplishing what many thought was impossible. The House and Senate have agreed to pass a $350 billion package to stimulate the economy, largely by cutting taxes. Never mind that President Bush's original request was more than twice as large or that he once called the $350 billion figure little bitty.

It's a pattern that goes back to his days as Texas governor. Campaign hard for your point of view, but know when to compromise in order to get something done. It's not perfect, but it is practical leadership. And it's not ideological, Paul. And it's hard to attack this president as some sort of right wing ideologue.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: It's ideological; it's theological. He worships at the religion of tax breaks for the elite. It is his answer for everything.

Lower back pain? Tax breaks for the rich. Asthma? Tax breaks for the rich. It's a manic insanity on his part.

And I give him great credit. This is a an enormous victory for the president. I think it's an enormous defeat for the economy, for our children. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pay Mr. Bush's bills, but good for Mr. Bush.

CARLSON: Because it turns out the Democratic analysis of the economy, which is always sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), has turned out to totally, totally wrong.

BEGALA: So it only brought us 23 million jobs under Clinton, the strongest economy in human history under President Clinton.

CARLSON: Well, right. OK. The slogans (ph) of Clinton.

BEGALA: It worked; this doesn't.

CARLSON: Answer this: why are interest rates as low as they are if interest rates..

BEGALA: Why does the economy suck if Bush's plan is so good? We've had three years, two and a half years of Bush's economic plans. It's failed.

Well, speaking of President Bush, our president starred in a fat cat fundraiser last night. Now that phrase, "fat cat" probably is an injustice to poor felines everywhere. Better probably for me to say morbidly obese hogs unable to pull their snouts from the trough.

They went out on whole hog, giving Mr. Bush $22 million last night. Maybe here's why. A "Wall Street Journal" analysis today reveals that for a very few lucky elites, the Bush tax cut will mean they pay no taxes at all. None, zip, nada.

They get the gold mine, you get the shaft. When asked about the fact that his tax cut may mean zero taxes for some of the wealthiest Americans, Mr. Bush allegedly said, duh, that's the whole point. That's the point of his presidency is that his rich friends get to pay nothing and we pay everything.

CARLSON: That's such a lame analysis. It's hard even to know how to respond to that.

BEGALA: Did you read "The Wall Street Journal" analysis today?

CARLSON: Paul, the original proposal put forward by the White House -- and I tried to make this point on the show, but of course I was steamrolled by bumper stickers, as usual -- the original proposal would have increased the percentage of federal taxes that come from the richest 5 percent of Americans.

BEGALA: To zero.

CARLSON: That's a fact. "The Wall Street Journal"...

BEGALA: Look, "The Journal" knows more about economics than I do. And I hope maybe more than you.

CARLSON: Right.

BEGALA: They talked to experts who said, look, there are enough loopholes in here that if you're very rich, you don't have to pay any taxes at all. That's Bush's dream.

CARLSON: With Congress going into recess, speaking of dreams, just about every Democratic presidential candidate seems to be heading to California. Tonight, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean will hold a fundraiser at Chi-Chi's in San Francisco. It's the site of a historic lesbian and topless bar.

This weekend, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio kicks off a 10- day tour of the state. The presidential hopeful, who is also a strict vegan, whatever that is, will drive what his spokeswoman describes as "the biggest, completely green vehicle in North America," a Greyhound bus that runs completely on recycled vegetable oil.

Kucinich will be joined on his trip by celebrities, including Bonnie Raitt and Sean Penn. And the public is also invited to attend, although supporters are reminded to bring their own dope, because no one likes a mooch.

BEGALA: First off, I want to get you on the record.

CARLSON: And that's true. BYOD, Paul.

BEGALA: Are you in -- do you support or oppose lesbian topless bars? Because I'm all for them. I mean, my god...

CARLSON: Paul, you know I'm on the record going back more than 15 years. I got on that bandwagon early. I'm a supporter, as you know.

BEGALA: God bless you.

CARLSON: But the point is, recycled vegetable oil, that's why I'm a Dennis Kucinich fan. Because I think, like Al Sharpton, if you could put them together that would be the dream ticket. He represents something fundamental about your party.

BEGALA: It is comically funny, but it's tragically funny that the oil that Dick Cheney and George Bush care about is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Texas oil men. I'd still rather have a vegan than a greasy Texas oil man.

Well "The New York Times" reports today that the CIA is reviewing its intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs. President Bush, you may recall, repeatedly cited intelligence he claims showed that Saddam Hussein had literally tons of deadly chemical and biological weapons and an active nuclear weapons program. Not an ounce of which has been found in the six weeks that America has occupied all of Iraq.

Radio talk show host Don Imus has a theory. He says the reason we haven't found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is that the shipment hasn't arrived from Washington yet. But on a serious note, we're left with two choices. Either Mr. Bush was grievously misinformed or he knowingly misled America in the war in which 137 heroes lost their lives. Let's hope an investigation tells us which.

CARLSON: Well actually, Paul, there's a third option which is, I think, as even you know is the most likely. And that is they just haven't found them because they're hard to find. And it took a very long time, thanks to obstruction from the United Nations, until America troops actually got into Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: And as you're fully aware, in those months, it's pretty easy to hide chemical and biological weapons. There's no evidence that those weapons were destroyed. We know they existed; the U.N. verified that.

BEGALA: We have 150,000 men in that country, Tucker. First off, you can't hide a nuclear program. We all know that. You can't build a nuclear bomb in a mobile lab.

CARLSON: Is there evidence that those biological weapons were destroyed?

BEGALA: Is there evidence Mr. Bush misled us? Ample, absolutely.

CARLSON: That's an outrageous thing to say.

BEGALA: He did mislead us or he was misinformed. Let's find out which.

In a minute, the tax cut is, as I've said, a big win for the president, but will the economy descend into chaos as quickly as Afghanistan and Iraq have? We will debate taxes and terrorism with two of the smartest guys in Washington.

And then, later, an update on how golfer Annika Sorenstam is doing against the he-men women haters on the PGA tour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. When President Bush said he wanted an economic stimulus package on his desk by Memorial Day, many in Washington snickered. When he vowed to hunt down America's enemies, many doubted.

Now thousands of terrorists and their supporters, including Saddam Hussein, are out of business, and millions of taxpayers can start looking forward to the checks that will be in the mail by the summer. Here to talk taxes and terrorism, Democratic Strategist Peter Fenn and Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor of "The Washington Times."

BEGALA: Thank you very much. Tony, this is -- Lyndon Johnson used to say, you can't shine a cow paddy. He didn't quite say it that way.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": What does that mean? I don't understand these colloquialisms.

BEGALA: Well, what it means is for Mr. Bush this is an enormous victory. And no Democrat should gainsay that.

Tucker pointed out most people didn't think he should get it. He has won and in record time. It's Memorial Day weekend. And yet, as he has stumped for his tax cut, he hasn't had the same success in the country as he's had on Capitol Hill.

"The Wall Street Journal" poll is out today. They asked Americans whether tax cuts would be the best thing for the economy, the essence of Mr. Bush's case. Here's what they said. Twenty-nine percent said, yes, tax cuts are the best way to increase economic growth; 64 percent said no. So Mr. Bush apparently is selling something people ain't buying, Tony.

(APPLAUSE)

BLANKLEY: One of the strange things about Republicans and Democrats is Democrats always believe those polls. Republicans have never. We see we see those polls year after year and decade after decade.

People ask; they say, I don't want a tax cut, I'd rather have spending on something else. And yet every time you go to an election, it seems like tax cuts play pretty well. So I agree the polls are always that way; that doesn't surprise me.

I think the Democrats' problem on the economy is that they don't have a plausible alternative issue. Their proposal -- Bush's proposal is a tax cut. The Democrat proposal is a smaller tax cut.

You know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, Democrats would say, we need to have more spending, we have to provide for the poor, we need to have backup on the -- all the social services. We want to have central planning regulation, create industrial policy. A plausible alternative policy, but because the Democrats don't have an alternative policy, they're kind of just tactically arguing on the side as to how exactly big the tax cut should be. CARLSON: Well -- and it's sad, Peter, isn't it? I mean I think after a while you get the impression -- correct, I believe -- the Democrats have no idea how the economy works. I'll give you one example and maybe you can answer this question.

Democrats have always said that small deficits were at the heart of Clinton's economic success and that they would be the downfall of this administration because they cause high interest rates. Deficit has grown, interest rates are at historic lows. Why? Can you explain that to me?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Actually, what we have found is that the economic policies of Bill Clinton balancing that budget, providing tax cuts for those who really need it, and creating over 20 million jobs is what put this economy in...

CARLSON: But you're not going to answer the question, are you?

(APPLAUSE)

FENN: No, I'm going to answer the question all right, because the key -- and Tony's got this right -- Tony has this right in one way -- the key is we've got George one note there as president of the United States. His answer to everything is a tax cut.

And you know the American people are getting this, because not only did that "Wall Street Journal" poll say that they've got problems with the current -- with the future tax cuts, they've got problems with the tax cuts they were already given. And that only -- wait just a second.

Only 25 percent of the people in this country believe that they have helped this economy. Funny thing when you've lost 2.5 million new jobs. Let me speak to the Democratic alternative here for a minute, because I think that's...

BEGALA: Let me get Tony to respond -- I'm sorry to cut you off. Warren Buffett, no...

BLANKLEY: A liberal Democrat.

BEGALA: ... a brilliant capitalist investor who knows a hell of a lot more about the economy than any of us...

BLANKLEY: He's done very well.

BEGALA: Yes. But he has attacked President Bush's tax cut, and he said -- I'm quoting him here -- it "favors the wealthy and there's no guarantee it will stimulate the economy." Do you think George Bush knows more about the economy than Warren Buffett?

BLANKLEY: You know I mean all these sort of juxtaposed questions don't mean anything in the political setting. The reality is that, in the last election cycle, you and everybody else was arguing it was going to be the economy, stupid. And it happens I was arguing the contrary. I thought terrorism was going to trump the economy. And, in fact, we had a bad year economically and terrorism trumped the economy. The question is, does the public blame this president for the economic conditions? We'll find out. I don't know.

BEGALA: But the question was, does he know more than Warren Buffett?

CARLSON: Wait, Peter, hold on. Let me get in here.

FENN: I can find a billionaire who will say another thing. I mean billionaires say the strangest things.

CARLSON: And Ross Perot -- but I think Tony made a really interesting point, Peter, and I want your take on it. And that is, that there's this thing called terrorism that actually may be the most important thing to voters.

Yesterday, Donna Brazile, Al Gore's former campaign manager, wrote this: she said voters believe that "we Democrats are weak and indecisive when is comes to standing up to dictators and terrorists and when it comes to the primary responsibility of the government defending the nation." She went on to say that her father, a war veteran, doesn't feel respected by the Democratic Party.

Why is that? What's going on?

FENN: I think it's a very bad perception, and I think the Democrats have got to correct it. I mean, one of the things that is going to happen with this insane economic policy that this president is putting forth is that he's cutting 88,000 police in local communities. Now, does that help, you now, security? No.

The other thing that I think is very important here is that you've got 27 states and counting...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The president doesn't hire police.

FENN: President Clinton had a program where he put 100,000 new police on the street and now Bush is taking them away. The other point here I think which is very important is the states are taking it in the chops.

Over 27 states now, counting up, have huge deficits. And thanks to the Democrats, at least there's some money now to go into those states so they can do more in homeland security and making us more secure.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: This morning, as they put the final touches on Mr. Bush's tax cut, congressional Republicans removed all aid for localities on homeland defense. All aid for localities is now gone so we have a few more pennies for tax cuts for the rich. That's insane, isn't it? BLANKLEY: No. Let's not get into clinical insanity on this show. It may hit too close to home for some of us. But, look...

BEGALA: They eliminated all aid for localities. I mean the tax cut -- I'm rich. The tax cut is not going to do me good if some terrorist kills me.

BLANKLEY: I'd like to talk about homeland defense and spending, because we've spent, what, $30 billion, whatever. The Democrats are proposing spending a bit more.

I've looked pretty seriously at (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the ranking Democrat on...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: ... who proposed the most spending on port defense. I think that makes sense. Lieberman is talking about spending a bit more money on Coast Guard. I think that makes sense.

The reality is that we aren't beginning to spend enough money on homeland security at magnitudes that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are proposing. You can give a list of 100 things we should spend money on, and we ought to. I don't think this government, I don't think the politicians...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Let me just finish. And I don't think the public has taken seriously enough the shortfall we're going to have trying to manage a major crisis -- major attack. And so...

FENN: Tony, you're making our point. You're making our point.

BEGALA: He's making your point.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Tony Blankley, of "The Washington Times," who, I will say again, runs the liveliest editorial page in Washington, much better than "The Post." Thank you very much for joining us. Peter Fenn, ace Democratic strategist, thank you very much for being here as well.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Next, it is Rapidfire, where the questions and answers, they move just about as quick as one of those girly-men golfers do running away from Annika Sorenstam. Should she be there? And how did she do today? Stick around and find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It was a bad day for all the he-men women haters in the world of golf because Annika Sorenstam, the first woman in 58 years to play on the men's PGA tour, more than held her own against the boys, finishing one over par, with a 71 in the opening round of the colonial golf tournament today in Ft. Worth. She is the subject of our Rapidfire today.

Joining us to discuss it is sports attorney and radio talk show host and "Political USA" columnist, Debbie Schlussel. Debbie, good to see you again.

DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL, SPORT ATTORNEY: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Debbie, isn't this just a way for the tournament to get publicity, like hiring a blimp or something to come in and make balloon animals? Doesn't it make sense as a publicity tactic?

SCHLUSSEL: That's exactly what it is like. It's like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hired a midget to stand at home plate for the St. Louis Browns. And there's no tiger.

BEGALA: But, Debbie, in defense of the men, it is a scientific fact that girls have cooties, isn't it?

SCHLUSSEL: Well, I don't know. I don't have any. How about you?

CARLSON: We believe you, Debbie. Do you think it's possible she could do well?

SCHLUSSEL: Well, you know, right now, she has not done well. I think she's just about average. I mean, she's only in the middle of the pack. If the cut were held at the end of the day today, she would not make the rest of the tournament.

So I don't think she's doing that well and I don't think she's doing well for women's golf, because a lot of women are going to want to come on to play and leave the women's tour. And she's showing that they're just average.

BEGALA: But isn't one of the reasons that there's been this outcry from men -- the fact is, that men who are drawn to golf are weenies and wimps and wussies? Isn't that really what golf is all about?

SCHLUSSEL: Oh, Paul, come on. I mean, you can't characterize a sport by name calling.

BEGALA: Sure I can. Watch me.

SCHLUSSEL: Actually, golf is a great skill, and I think the men are much more skilled than the women, as we see since Annika is very average today.

BEGALA: Oh the men are prissy little wimps. I hate them.

CARLSON: Do you think the LPGA, Debbie, ought to change its rules and allow men to play? SCHLUSSEL: For sure. If it's good for the goose, if it's good for Annika, then it's good for the gander. Let guys develop their game. If they're not good enough for the PGA tour, let them use the LPGA tour as a developmental league.

CARLSON: That's an interesting idea. I hope the gods of sports listen to you. Debbie Schlussel, thanks so much for coming on. We appreciate it. And enlightening us all things sports related. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And now we turn to our audience for our audience question of the day. And the question is: Should women golfers play on the men's PGA tour?

Also ahead, one of our fashion conscious viewers gets a chance to fire back. They're always the worst. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for our Fireback segment.

But first, the results of our audience poll. And the question was, women golfers play on men's PGA tour? Quite a split in our audience. Among men, only 42 percent think it's a good idea. Among women, 72 percent are for it. Tomorrow, we may have to flip the question.

BEGALA: The guys are scared to have the girls play with them.

CARLSON: I'd like to know if women would like to see men in the LPGA tour. I think that would be an interesting question.

BEGALA: Why not? I think the fear is the men don't want the ladies coming in the locker room and, you know...

CARLSON: I wonder how the ladies feel about the men coming in.

BEGALA: Charles in Washington, D.C. begins our e-mail with this: "A failed foreign policy, highest unemployment, trade deficit, budget deficit, the dollar at an all-time low, and states facing major budgets shortfalls. Are we better now than we were three years ago? I think not."

Charles, that's a pretty good Democratic campaign message.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Memo to RNC: don't bother working on Charles. You're not going to get him.

James D. Fisher of Bucklin, Kansas writes "A woman can now play at a men's golf tournament. Does this mean that Tiger Woods or any other men can enter an LPGA event?" We just asked that question, James. The answer, of course, is no.

BEGALA: Well, the LPGA has a rule that says you must be born a woman. Actually, I think it's discrimination against the transgenders. If somebody wants to go to all the trouble to having that surgery, by god let them...

CARLSON: If you want to get castrated you should go. That's right.

BEGALA: Yes. That's a commitment that I think most men lack.

Laura in Redlands, California writes, on a sort of personal note, "Paul, I was hurt by characterization of feminists as short haired and angry. In an effort to appear more feminine, I've purchased some lovely pink pants, much like the ones Tucker wore on Tuesday."

They were fetching, Tucker. There's a picture. They're just cute as they can be.

CARLSON: You know, it's funny; you never have any idea they can see your trousers on TV, but Paul, it turns out they can. Thanks, Laura. I appreciate it. It takes a man to wear pink pants; that's my feeling.

BEGALA: A very special man, by the way.

CARLSON: Next up, Brian Nick of Garden City, New York writes "Where can I sign up for your Republicans for Sharpton campaign? He's exactly what the Democrats need to get their party back on track." Amen. "No one exemplifies the true spirit of the Democratic Party better."

Good point, Nick. And I'd be glad to know, what exactly about Al Sharpton is so unacceptable? I think he's a pretty mainstream Democrat.

BEGALA: Well, let's make him the mayor of Garden City, then, Brian. Let him run your city, not my country -- yes, sir. What's your question or comment?

TOM: I'm Tom (ph) from Logan, Utah. Democrats have been beating up the president saying that there's no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But isn't it true that our brave soldiers have found a lot of evidence of mass destruction? That of thousands of bodies who were killed, tortured and brutalized by Saddam Hussein before he was toppled by the brave American soldiers who went under the command of President George Bush?

BEGALA: Absolutely, but...

CARLSON: The left used to care about human rights. I don't know what happened.

BEGALA: President Bush did not send those brave soldiers over there to defend Iraqis. That's not his job. It's his job to defend Americans. And he sent those 137 men to die. He said there were weapons over there to threaten us. And he was wrong. We ought to find out why.

CARLSON: OK, but it's very telling the collective yawn those discoveries have elicited from Democrats. Yeah, whatever, he was bad on human rights.

It used to matter to the left. And I'm sorry it doesn't.

BEGALA: In truthfulness, it used to matter to the right. Apparently they only care about lying about sex. If you lie about taking us into war that kills 137 American heroes, not a big deal.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us next time for more CROSSFIRE.

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Tony Blankley, Peter Fenn; Interview With Debbie Schlussel>


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