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CNN CROSSFIRE

Fatter Tax on Snacks?; Gore in '04?

Aired June 13, 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, some food for thought. If you want a thinner waistline and an appetizing budget surplus, is it time for a fatter tax on snacks?

Plus, some Democrats think this crowd is a bunch of losers and want to draft Al Gore. 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. Today we're taking on the latest encroachment of the nanny state, raising taxes on Ho Ho's and Twinkies. They'll tell you it's for your own good, of course. We know better. But first, it won't change your eating habits, but it is still the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

By just about any measure, the field of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates is pretty weak. Kind of sad, actually. Not that Republicans would complain. But many Democrats are complaining.

Tomorrow, a few brave souls will try to do something about it. The elect Al Gore 2004 movement gathers in Tennessee, a state Gore lost last time, you'll remember, to plan strategy. Nostalgia for the former vice president is growing in a new New Hampshire poll. Last month, Gore ran eight points ahead of his nearest Democratic rival, which puts him into the same league as Hillary Clinton, Barbra Streisand and Franklin D. Roosevelt as favorites among the party's faithful. The most appealing Democrats, as always, are the ones not even in the race, sometimes not even alive.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: One correction, though, to that, of course, the movement would have to be to be grammatically and historically correct to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reelect. Reelect Al Gore since he won the last election.

CARLSON: I know you're still mad. No, but truly... BEGALA: I am still mad about it.

CARLSON: ... isn't it kind of sad? That's like bringing back Ronald Reagan. It's so -- admit it.

BEGALA: It's sad that Chief Justice Rehnquist stole the election from Gore, who ought to be in the White House today.

CARLSON: You have not been taking your medication, as I advised you. It's over now.

BEGALA: Because you have to be on drugs to believe Bush was really our president.

CARLSON: OK, I know you're mad.

BEGALA: And it's the only way I can deal with it.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: No, but seriously, what are you going to say when he's reelected?

BEGALA: The leader of this rally, by the way, is going to be with this later.

CARLSON: Yes.

BEGALA: Mim Sieting is the wonderful woman who has organized this rally. We're going to talk to her later in the program.

CARLSON: We'll try and help her.

BEGALA: Moving on, the House of Representatives last night voted to extend the $1,000 child tax credit through the rest of this decade. But House Republicans refused to instruct the Treasury Department to send child credit refunds to low-income families right away. Which means if you're rich, you get your rebate this summer. If you're a low-income working family, though, you don't.

Republicans also removed a provision from the law which would have allowed dads and moms who fought in Iraq to get a slightly bigger tax credit. So hurray for the Republicans for finally showing us their true values: screwing soldiers fighting in 120 degree heat half a world away from their kids, while rewarding the idle rich sipping martinis on their inherited yachts. This is what being a Republican is all about.

CARLSON: Sipping martinis on their inherited yachts. That is imagery straight from 1933. I must say I give you credit for resurrecting it.

Actually, that was really a masterpiece of spin. It's not necessarily a tax credit because a good bulk of those families don't pay income taxes. It's essentially a grant, not that there's anything wrong with that. Call it what it is. Second, they're getting it. They may wait till fall, they may wait an extra month. But the idea that they're somehow getting screwed out of this money is totally false, as you know.

BEGALA: Yes, the need the money more than the rich people do. They ought to get it now. House Republicans took that provision out. I don't know why.

CARLSON: Paul, it's not a tax credit.

BEGALA: It is.

CARLSON: How can you get credit for taxes you didn't pay?

BEGALA: It's called a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It was created by Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman (ph). It's a conservative idea. It just happens to be a good one.

CARLSON: OK. Speaking of money, this year's congressional financial disclosure forms have been released. And, as usual, it's a fascinating document.

Among those who have cashed in most aggressively over the past 12 months, Bill and Hillary Clinton. The junior senior from New York has received the $1,150,000 partial payment for an account of being wrong.

Meanwhile, the man who wronged her has racked up $9.5 million in speaking fees. The Clintons, in other words, are very rich. But they're still deadbeats, unfortunately.

The couple still owes up to $6.5 million to the lawyers, the paralegals and the poorly paid secretaries who defended them in the 1990s. They could pay their debts tomorrow. It would be easy.

But why should they? That's their attitude. As you remember, Leona Helmsley once pointed out, the rich live by very separate rules.

Why don't they pay off their debts to the little people? They owe this money. Pay it.

BEGALA: Well, first of all, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like they're millionaire lawyers. They're paying their lawyers, Tucker, but who ought to pay them is Ken Starr and the rest of those right wing cranks who ran up these illegitimate legal bills. It is not fair that the Clintons are saddled with legal bills because Ken Starr went crazy and ran amuck with $70 million in...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Paul, when I have legal bills I pay them. OK? They should pay their bills.

BEGALA: And the Clintons are paying theirs.

CARLSON: No they're not. BEGALA: They've paid millions of dollars to their lawyers, and they'll pay millions more.

Well, in political news from the great country of Ukraine -- I'm sure you've all been following this race closely -- Olar Perkov (ph) has lost the race for mayor of the city of Zaporizhzhya. He only got less than 100 votes. Tragic results for Mr. Perkov (ph), but there the tragedy only begins.

The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) news agency reports Mr. Perkov (ph), head of a Ukrainian research institute, was so humiliated by his defeat that he castrated himself. Talk about a sore loser.

President Bush expressed concern that someone would take such a drastic step simply because he got fewer votes than his opponents. Mr. Bush asked his aides, what's the deal? Doesn't the Ukraine have a Supreme Court?

CARLSON: It does seem to me -- I mean, Mr. Perkov (ph) is perfectly situated to move to Berkley and run in the transgender (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Truly, that does seem like an overreaction. Even to someone who takes it as seriously as you do. That's an overreaction, yes.

BEGALA: It's a little over the top.

Well, speaking of over the top, next, the way for cash-strapped cities and states to fatten their budgets. That's the one thing we've got a surplus of, fat. We will debate the so-called fat tax when CROSSFIRE returns.

And then in "RapidFire", will the man who beat George Bush in the last presidential election reemerge to do it again in 2004? We will talk to someone who is laying the groundwork for Gore in '04. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. You know studies say that two out of every three Americans are overweight and, therefore, with increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and premature death. Obesity-related health costs are more than $117 billion a year.

So in New York, one assemblyman has a plan to cut the fat, improve our health and fund obesity awareness programs by imposing a one percent tax -- a fat tax, if you will -- on junk food, video games and TV commercials that push fatty food. In the CROSSFIRE to debate all this, George Washington University law professor, John Banzhaf and Fred Smith, the president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

CARLSON: Mr. Banzhaf, I disagree with the premise of this idea. But even if I agreed with the premise, it would be impossible to implement fairly. Let me tell you why.

JOHN BANZHAF, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: They did it in Sri Lanka two years ago. Wake up.

CARLSON: Really? OK. Sri Lanka. I'm sorry I missed that.

BANZHAF: Yes. You ought to do some research before you come out and shoot your mouth off.

CARLSON: Professor, I want you to respond to facts if you're capable. This right here is vitamin D milk. One serving has eight grams of fat. This right here is a medium-sized avocado. It has 30 grams of fat, almost as much as a Big Mac.

This right here is a box of Lucky Charms, a fine cereal. It is endorsed by the American Heart Association as a healthy food. Under your idea, so-called (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tax, this would probably skate through. That's insane.

BANZHAF: Well, I'm not sure that's true. But if you hand that to me for a minute -- or take this. Here's the Oreo cookies. Which one of these is more likely to make people fat?

They're going to be taxing this, not this. And let's talk about the reasons for it. If you have a fat tax and it's being proposed in Britain -- the British Medical Association wants a 17.5 percent tax. In Australia they're talking about a bigger tax for shock value. It does a number of things.

First, it discourages consumption. That's why we tax cigarettes and alcohol. We want to discourage consumption.

Secondly, we can use some of that money for healthy education messages. It worked very well with regard to smoking.

Third, it's a constant reminder. Whenever you buy a food which has a tax on it, keep eating. It's a reminder to you this is fattening. Four, the old free enterprise system, the altar that you worship at, we might encourage manufacturers to produce candy bars or other foods which are healthier for you.

BEGALA: Let me bring you into this. John has a point, right? We tax alcohol, we tax tobacco. These are things that harm us.

We tax gambling. Bill Bennett alone balanced the budget in Nevada last year. What's wrong with taxing behaviors that we don't want (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

FRED SMITH, PRESIDENT, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: That's like nibbling on a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) delivery system. You know, the argument -- people have different tastes. I mean, I'm from the south. Do we really believe that we ought to discrimination against southerners?

Soul food is fatty food. But look, people happen to like it, it's a cultural tradition. And remember, there are no good foods, there are no bad foods. There are good diets and bad diets.

People have a chance. They like the foods. They should not make foods more expensive.

This is regressive tax. It's basically the typical thing of elitists telling poor people what they can and can't do. It's immoral, it's obscene. Southerners shouldn't be treated discriminatorily.

The Civil War is over, John. The Civil War is over.

(CROSSTALK)

BANZHAF: Most of the cost is paid by the great majority of people who are not obese. So we are shifting the cost to the people who cause it.

CARLSON: Gentlemen, if I could just interrupt you and get you to respond to something, Mr. Banzhaf. You're a law professor, as I remember, not a doctor. But even you know that there is no consensus on what makes people fat.

For instance, if I...

BANZHAF: Bull. Are you aware of the fact that government regulations on nutrition -- I'm asking you a question. Are you aware of the federal government regulations which define already nutritious versus non-nutritious foods?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: If I eat steak and cheese exclusively for a month, there is no question that I will lose weight. Two fatty foods, I eat them exclusively. I lose weight.

Bottom line, we don't know precisely what makes people fat. Diet and not food.

BANZHAF: Look at virtually any major -- talk to the surgeon general, the Center for Disease Control, many of your health organizations both here and abroad. We know what causes people to get fat. It is eating too many calories for their exercise.

If we tell people what is in foods, if we tax foods according to their percentage to make people obese, we will reduce it just as we have reduced smoking. Smoking -- the tax on smoking works fine.

SMITH: John's got a point.

BEGALA: I think if we followed the president's example, by the way, George W. Bush works out every day, watches his diet. Why not reward healthy Americans like George W. Bush and penalize people that want -- anybody want to make themselves fat here on an Oreo here?

SMITH: Look, let's get it clear. John's right. There are many parts of the world where people are thin. And these are places where people are starving.

It's where food costs have been driven up by the kind of policies John wants to see. Taxing food, making food more expensive will certainly make people thin, indeed, in many cases in the world. High- priced food has made people dead.

It is worthwhile essentially allowing people to have choices to recognize that people are perfectly capable of being grownups and deciding what level of exercise and diet they want to live with. We don't need the Johns of the world...

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You make a very interesting point, Mr. Banzhaf. And that is, you claim the rest of us pay the costs of the bad decisions of individuals.

BANZHAF: It's a government study. Did you read it?

CARLSON: Mr. Banzhaf, if you could stop interrupting me and answer my question if you can, if you dare. And it's this: the cost of sexually transmitted diseases -- hold on -- is very high. That's exactly the point.

We don't dare regulate the sex lives of individuals simply because the rest of us pay the costs of their bad choices. Do you see the point?

BANZHAF: Yes, but the point is, we don't because we can't.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: Oh come on, John. Think about it.

BANZHAF: We tax cigarettes and we are reducing consumption.

SMITH: Oh, yes. Right, John.

BANZHAF: We tax alcohol, we keep the consumption down. It worked. How are you going to tax sex?

Are you going to have everybody pay when they plug in? What are you going to do? Come on.

BEGALA: First off, it is true that in 1955 the majority of American men smoked. About 57 percent. Today, 25 percent.

We've cut smoking in half by a campaign of higher taxes and more education. Exactly what Mr. Banzhaf has suggested for fatty food. What's wrong with that?

BANZHAF: It works. It works.

SMITH: Look...

CARLSON: It's called fascism, that's why.

(APPLAUSE)

BANZHAF: A name is not an argument. You just keep asking questions. You don't make any arguments.

SMITH: You know, really, if we had been having this debate 10 years ago, and John was rushing around saying we've got to tax fatty foods, people would say this guy is an airhead. Now these airhead get air time.

You know really the real challenge in America is to say, do we want to treat our people like children and have a childish society? Or do we want to have a society of individuals who take responsibility for their own health and their own weight?

I think we want a society that allows people to make choices and learn from the consequences. Some of us are a little overweight. I've been planning to join a gym. After this, I think I will. Because I sure don't want to be taxed on Oreos.

BANZHAF: OK. But most of what I propose is now in effect. Most of what you propose is not in effect.

CARLSON: Professor Banzhaf, thanks for joining us. Fred Smith, thank you for spreading the truth. We really appreciate it.

BEGALA: There we go.

SMITH: And incidentally, they're assaulting people out there with these assault weapons.

CARLSON: Exactly.

We are going to take a quick break and then Wolf Blitzer will have the headlines, including the latest trouble in the Middle East.

Then get out your lock boxes. We're going to give one of the leaders of the draft Al Gore movement the "RapidFire" treatment. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Right now, it's time for "RapidFire", here at CROSSFIRE, the fastest Q&A segment in television. Joining us from Vanderbilt University in Nashville is Mim Sieting. She is the coordinator of Elect Al Gore 2004, the organizer of an enormous rally tomorrow in Nasvhille. Ms. Sieting, thank you for joining us.

MIM SIETING, ELECT AL GORE 2004: Thank you.

CARLSON: Ms. Sieting, Tucker Carlson. Have you spoken to Mr. Gore?

SIETING: No.

BEGALA: I wonder, Ms. Sieting, if you have listened to the criticism that perhaps this is a slap in the face of the nine very able people who are already running for president in the Democratic Party?

SIETING: We have nothing against the nine. In fact, we work with groups that are endorsing and supporting the nine. We just happen to support Al Gore, and so do 70 percent of the Democratic voters in the United States.

CARLSON: But not, perhaps, in Tennessee, Ms. Sieting, where the rally is being held. Of course, Mr. Gore lost Tennessee, his home state, last time. Do you think it's even remotely possible he could win it again if he ran?

SIETING: I think this election is going to be much more sharply divided. We know what George Bush is, and we know what Al Gore is. And I think that will make a big difference.

BEGALA: And, in fact, isn't it true that George W. Bush lost his home country of America in that election and Al Gore got more votes?

SIETING: You got that right.

CARLSON: Ms. Sieting, I followed Al Gore around the country last time and I got the strong impression he didn't like running for president. Do you think he'd like it any more this time?

SIETING: I think Al Gore last time had some bad handling and bad advice. And I think he was very uptight and nervous. And I think this time it will be a whole other story because we're asking Al Gore to be Al Gore.

SIETING: Well, Ms. Sieting, he is still a young man, younger than many of the Democrats currently running. Why not wait and support him for 2008?

SIETING: We can't afford to. Al Gore is the best qualified candidate for president this country has ever had. And this country right now needs the best qualified person they can get to take care of the problems we have in the world.

George Bush has got people wanting to come over here and kill us. And the world hates us and we've lost our credit as a nation.

CARLSON: But Ms. Sieting, Al Gore had very long careers in the House of Representatives, the Senate, then the White House, his entire dull life. And if he was still nervous by the end of that, what makes you think he'd be any less nervous now?

SIETING: Because I think people who care very deeply about something and are very serious about it are nervous. I'm nervous sitting here right now.

BEGALA: You don't look nervous. You look like you're doing great. Tell me, what's your prediction on the size of the crowd tomorrow?

SIETING: I have no idea. I hope it will be a great and grand crowd. I know we're going to have a lot of people there. And whatever happens, we're going to have a good time.

BEGALA: Mim Sieting, we've already had a good time with you. Thank you for a terrific "RapidFire".

Mim Sieting in Nashville, Tennessee, sponsor of Gore in 2004. Thanks a lot, Ms. Sieting.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Now we're going to ask our audience, do you think Al Gore should run in 2004? Pull out your voting device. Press one for yes, the more the merrier, run, Al, run, or two, no, the field already has plenty of qualified candidates ready to run against George W. Bush and beat him.

We'll have results for you in a minute after this break. But then in "Fireback", one of our viewers has a theory about why the right wing is so afraid of Gore and Bill and Hillary Clinton. We'll let you know in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for "Fireback". But first the results of our audience poll, in which we asked, should Al Gore, now a community college professor somewhere, run for president again?

The results: 20 percent of Republicans say, run, Al, run. Fifty- six percent of Democrats say the same. In the no column, 80 percent of Republicans don't want to see any more Gore and 44 percent of Democrats agree. Split the Democrats almost down the middle.

BEGALA: But what's most interesting is four out of five Republicans don't want him to run. Why? They don't want him to win.

CARLSON: I disagree. I'd love to see him run.

BEGALA: They know he'd win. He'd Bush like he did the last time. And Rehnquist will be retired, and there's no chance.

"Fireback" now. Joe Frutt in Springdale, Arizona writes to the show "A tax on snack foods might be in the public's best interest. Maybe if the president had to actually pay a tax for once he wouldn't have choked on one of his pretzels." All right. There you go.

CARLSON: OK. More Arkansas humor. Next up, Don Anderson from Kingston, Ontario -- that's in Canada -- writes "Since Hillary might have Jerry Springer in the Senate, when is Jerry going to have Hillary and Bill on his show?"

There you go. That's a good question.

BEGALA: Chris Jackson of Loretta, Tennessee, Al Gore's home state, writes "Why is it that every time Al Gore or either of the Clintons makes the news the right wingers get up in arms? I guess they don't want the people to be reminded of the woeful times of prosperity, peace and an administration with vision."

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Administration with vision. That is so amusing.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am? What's your home town?

CHRISTINA: I'm Christina (ph) from St. Claire Michigan, and I just wanted to ask, given the recent rumors that Bill Clinton may run for mayor of New York City in 2005, what would you say his chances are beating Mayor Bloomberg?

BEGALA: Well, I think the best answer is what Tom DeLay said when asked if he was going to help poor children, ain't gonna happen. Bill Clinton ain't going to run for mayor; it's not going to happen. Don't worry about it.

CARLSON: Yes. I mean, you don't get your own jet. You don't get to flee to other countries when bad things happen when you're mayor of New York. So I think it's probably -- plus, New York is a really hard city to run.

BEGALA: You don't get to go land on aircraft carriers. It is a tough job. Bill Clinton did the toughest job in the whole world, better than anybody in my lifetime. But, no, he doesn't want to be the mayor and he shouldn't run.

CARLSON: Better than anybody? He was the most embarrassing president in American history. I can't believe...

BEGALA: And if we didn't have the right wing 22nd Amendment, he'd be president still today. From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again Monday for yet more CROSSFIRE.

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