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CNN CROSSFIRE

Best Man For the Job?

Aired February 19, 2004 - 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: jobs. Big labor wants John Kerry to have a new one. George W. Bush would just as soon keep the one he has.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the economy's growing. And I think it's going to get stronger.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not asking George Bush to count the jobs. We're asking George Bush to create the jobs and to fight for working people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Who would work the most for you?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody.

Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The U.S. has lost nearly 2.8 million jobs since President Bush took office. But, in his economic report, Mr. Bush promises that his tax cuts for the rich will somehow magically create 2.6 million new jobs this year alone. Even Mr. Bush's most loyal Cabinet members are running from that promise faster than a devil runs from holy water.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Democrats, meanwhile, continue to insist that they can, in fact, create jobs by enacting a massive new tax increase. It's never worked before, but they promise it will work this time. Believe them? We'll debate it.

But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Well, with the spectacular collapse of the Howard Dean for president movement yesterday, there's really only one major question left in this year's presidential race. That, of course, is, whose political career will Al Gore destroy next?

Well, wait no longer. CNN can now reveal the answer to that question. The winner of this season's Al Gore kiss of death contest is -- drumroll, please -- Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Next week, Edwards was scheduled to host a Democratic fund-raising event in Idaho known as the Frank Church Dinner, named after the left- wing senator who devoted much of his career to destroying America's intelligence agencies.

At the last minute, though, Edwards canceled. His replacement, you guessed it, Albert Gore Jr. In other words, Al Gore will be Edwards' surrogate. We've seen this movie before and it does not end well.

Our advice to Senator Edwards, flee. Fix your wagon to the Gore train and, before you can say political has-been, you'll be teaching civics part-time at Raleigh Technical Junior College.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: So run while you can.

BEGALA: Oh, now, stop.

First, off it should be said...

CARLSON: No, no, that's totally true.

BEGALA: It should be said that Frank Church was a great hero. He tried -- he tried to...

CARLSON: Actually...

BEGALA: ... to rein in retched excesses and corruption in the CIA.

CARLSON: In the CIA

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And he was a great environmentalist.

CARLSON: Actually, Paul...

BEGALA: Back when people actually cared about the environment in Washington, before George Bush came here to try to pour arsenic in the water.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Talk to anybody who actually works in intelligence and they'll tell you, Frank... (BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: Frank Church actually hurt America.

BEGALA: Church was a great American.

CARLSON: OK, Paul.

BEGALA: Well, more than 60 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel Prize winners, today said that the Bush administration has -- quote -- "misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies" -- unquote.

The group includes scholars from both political parties, who say President Bush and his team systematically distort science in order to serve Mr. Bush's political agenda on issues ranging from nuclear weapons to biomedical research to the environment to health.

So, now we know George W. Bush misled us about the war in Iraq. He misled us about the environment, about health care, about science. He certainly misled us about the deficit, jobs and his tax cut. Of course, don't forget his many fibs about his National Guard service. Of course, Mr. Bush's defenders do have an important point. He never lied about Monica Lewinsky. And isn't that really what matters?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Actually, there were not 20 Nobel Prize winners. There were about...

BEGALA: Yes, there were.

CARLSON: Actually, I checked. They were about half that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So it's only Ten Nobel Prize winners.

CARLSON: It's something called the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is a left-wing and completely discredited, utterly partisan group.

BEGALA: It's totally bipartisan.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: No, no.

BEGALA: One of the members worked in the

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... for two Republican presidents.

CARLSON: Right, worked in the Nixon administration. Right. That's exactly right. It is completely partisan. That's why your alert contained not a single specific example of what -- how George Bush had subverted science, because there aren't any. Go on the Web site.

(BELL RINGING)

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Here's one. No, he submitted -- he censored a report from the EPA about pollution.

CARLSON: He censored a report.

BEGALA: And substituted for that something from the oil industry.

CARLSON: Really? He's got a lot of free time, censoring those EPA reports.

BEGALA: Well, because he doesn't work very hard and he doesn't do the job in the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Plenty of free time.

CARLSON: Well.

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You may remember, that left- wing as he generally was, Howard Dean always made a lot of his fiscal record as the governor of Vermont. I'm a Yankee tightwad, he'd say, a prudent, thrifty, money manager, an economic conservative. Well, that was the argument. It sounded good at the time.

Now consider what Dean actually did with the money his supporters sent him during the primaries. It's quite a different picture. In fact, the Vermont doctor lost all control of his checkbook, went wild, Imelda-Marcos-in-a-shoe-store crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Here are the numbers. Dean raised and spent more than $50 million over the course of the race. In return, he won 202 delegates.

For those of you at home without calculators, that's a quarter million dollars per delegate. Remove the not fully committed super delegates and Dean blew $500,000 per person, again, per person. Well, every one of those people woke up this morning thinking the same thing. Why couldn't Howard Dean have just sent me the cash?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, first off...

CARLSON: That's so sad.

BEGALA: Howard Dean -- no, let me tell you what Howard Dean did with that money.

He changed the Democratic Party, gave us back our spine, gave us back our soul. He did a lot for us. And if you want to see somebody waste money...

CARLSON: That's true. That's true.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: ... let me take you to George W. Bush. He has blown $7 trillion of our money on his tax cuts for the rich.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Right.

BEGALA: You want to talk about somebody blowing money, let's go talk about Mr. Bush.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Howard Dean made it OK for Democrats just to run with hate as their campaign.

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: He made it OK to hate. Actually, they're going to lose because of it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It's true, because it's unattractive.

BEGALA: And I know you're concerned about Democrats winning, Tucker. I hope they listen to your

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... advice.

CARLSON: Well, I hope they do, too.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: "The Dallas Morning News" reports today that -- and I'm quoting the "Dallas News" here -- quote -- "A political committee connected to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sent $190,000 in what internal memos say were corporate donations to the Republican National Committee, which then doled out the same amount to seven candidates in Texas House races" -- unquote.

Now, it is a crime in Texas to use corporate money to fund political campaigns. Reformers in Texas go so far as to call the DeLay connected scheme -- quote -- "money laundering" -- unquote. The district attorney in Austin is investigating. DeLay, whose nickname is the Hammer, is widely credited with coming up with the strong-arm tactics used by Republicans to take over the Texas House, tactics public interest groups now allege may have crossed over a legal line.

As for one Texan, I've got to say, it would certainly be a sad day if the Hammer went to the slammer.

CARLSON: OK.

BEGALA: So I feel sorry for Tom DeLay. And he's going to be for prison reform now, isn't he?

CARLSON: People have -- people have a moral right and a constitutional right to express their political views, even if they work for corporations.

BEGALA: Even if it violates the law?

CARLSON: Even if they work for a labor union, people have a right to express the way they feel politically.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: And people do that in this country by giving money.

BEGALA: They have to do it with the law.

CARLSON: And there's nothing wrong with that.

BEGALA: Corporations are not people. Corporations don't have the same rights as people.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Actually, corporations are made up of people, Paul.

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: I'm sorry. I know you try and make them into sort of little

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Since 1905, corporations have not been allowed to give donations in Texas races. It's a crime. It's the law. If Tom DeLay wants to change the law, he can, but he ought not break it. And I hope he didn't.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Well, you've accused him of a crime, essentially.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I hope he actually committed it, for your sake.

BEGALA: I just read the news. I just read the news.

Well, President Bush has promised 2.6 million new jobs this year alone, despite the fact that his economic policies have already given us the worst job performance since Herbert Hoover. Of course, Mr. Bush's promises now sound a little like that old Merle Haggard tune. We'll all be drinking that free bubble up and eating that rainbow stew.

Up next, we'll debate whether Mr. Bush is promising pie in the sky or a whole floating bakery.

Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Well, who is the best man for jobs, including the job of president? We think, in your heart, you know the answer to that.

But in the CROSSFIRE, we have Gene Sperling. He was national economic adviser to President Clinton. And he's now director of economic programs at the Center For American Progress. And in New York City is former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes. He's editor in chief and CEO of Forbes Inc.

Welcome.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you both.

(APPLAUSE)

GENE SPERLING, FORMER CLINTON ECONOMIC ADVISER: Thank you.

STEVE FORBES, CEO, FORBES INC.: Good to be with you.

BEGALA: Mr. Forbes, it's good to see you again. Thank you for making time.

Let me hold up for you and for our viewers at home the economic report of the president, signed by the president of the United States, George W. Bush, on page four. And here, as I look at it, on page 98, there's a promise that his policies will create 2.6 million new jobs before the end of this year. Now, no sooner was the ink dry on this than two of the most loyal members of the president's Cabinet have abandoned that pledge.

Is his credibility that bad that even his own Cabinet secretaries don't believe him anymore?

FORBES: I think what we have here is a situation where they're looking at the wrong way to measure jobs. The more accurate way to do it is the household survey, which asks households, who's working, who isn't. And that finds that we created over one million jobs last year. So he's already halfway to the goal.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But Mr. Forbes, wait a minute -- don't -- the question was about credibility. His own policy advisers, including Don Evans, the commerce secretary, a man of real integrity and probably George Bush's best friend, now they're running away from his own promises. Doesn't that suggest that even they're admitting that the president misled us in his own economic report?

FORBES: Hardly at all. They're just being cautious, because they know that, given the two ways to measure jobs, one accurate, one inaccurate, all of you will glom on the inaccurate one. It's called hedging.

But the fact of the matter is, the economy is creating jobs. Capital spending is growing at a double-digit rate. Personal incomes are rising. And then, by summertime, when you guys meet in Boston, even you are going to have to say, well, this prosperity won't last after the election. That's what you'll be reduced to.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Now speaking of reduced, Gene Sperling, Democrats are already reduced to making an implausible claim. That is, the president's economic policies, specifically his tax policy, has pushed jobs abroad.

I want to read you a couple lines from "The Washington Post" this morning. I think you'll have trouble disagreeing with them. They're pretty thoughtful -- quote -- "Virtually no one would say that taxes are a primary or even significant factor in the movement of as many as 300,000 white-collar and many more manufacturing jobs abroad. No matter how sweet the tax incentive is to expand to India, for instance, it could not be more enticing than lowering a software developer's pay from $60 an hour to $6, a figure cited recently by McKinsey & Co."

That's the point, isn't it? It's not the president's tax policy. It's just economic reality. It's cheaper to send some jobs abroad.

SPERLING: Well, I'm going to agree with you slightly, but, it won't shock you, disagree with you mostly.

I don't think that these Democratic candidates should be making outsourcing the major focus. What they should be focusing on is how, from day one, day one, this administration had an overall policy that has created a huge jobs gap, a huge deficit gap, a huge credibility gap that has hurt jobs from day one.

Tucker, from the moment they came in, they have never been focused on job creation. Look at their very first budget. It didn't have a penny to stimulate job growth in 2001; 2002, when they could have pulled the whole country together, done something significant for jobs creation, what did they do? They focused on repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax?

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Actually, you just made the exact point that I was about to make. And that is, from day one, literally the first week in office, President Bush in office, Democrats were saying, he's spoiling the economy. We're talking about a $10 trillion economy. Do you really expect voters to believe the president has control over an economy that large and was wrecking it from day one? That's absurd.

SPERLING: No.

And, Tucker, I don't make such extreme claims. I don't think presidents deserve all the credit or all the blame. But you should hold a president accountable for how much they make a difference on the margins, the confidence they set. And this president, from day one, day one, focused on one thing, supply-side tax cuts. He never, ever put the main focus on how do you get short-term job creation and long-term economic and fiscal confidence. He had it upside-down from the start.

He has done very little to stimulate jobs from day one. And he has done everything to hurt our economic confidence, to hurt our long- term fiscal discipline. So, you know what? While they're running away from their remarks, I want to -- I want to actually adopt White House spokespersons' and George Bush's remarks. They said, we shouldn't focus on projections. Let's focus on results. They said we should focus on the 360,000 jobs created.

Paul, you know what? If you create jobs at the rate

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I want to bring Mr. Forbes in, because I do want to focus on the promises that President Bush has made. Tucker makes the point, presidents shouldn't be held accountable for the economy. They ought to be held accountable for their own words, though.

And our president promised -- let me put this up on the screen for our viewers at home -- promised 5.5 million jobs in his first term of his presidency. Those are his promises, toted up by economists at the Economic Policy Institute. The reality, of course, is at least 2.23 million jobs lost. That is a credibility gap, as well as a job gap, isn't it? We cannot believe what George W. Bush promises, can we, sir? (APPLAUSE)

FORBES: Paul, Paul, lest we forget, when Mr. Bush took office, he had to deal with the Clinton/Gore bubble, which burst in late 2000.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But he knew that when he made that promise, sir. I understand that.

FORBES: That was on your watch, not his.

BEGALA: I'm asking you -- but he made that promise. He -- he knew when he made that promise that the economy was what it was.

FORBES: During the campaign, even he...

BEGALA: But shouldn't he be held accountable for his promises?

FORBES: Even he misunderestimated the damage you guys did to the economy.

BEGALA: Oh, those 24 million jobs we created?

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

FORBES: All short-term oriented, all short-term oriented. And now the president, as soon as he took office, he reduced tax rates, put in incentives, coped with the disaster of 9/11.

Today, we are creating jobs. There are 2.5 million more jobs today in the United States than there were when he took office, when you look at the right survey of measuring these things. And now we're on track again.

BEGALA: What survey is that?

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

FORBES: If you want to throw us off track, if you want to throw us off track, bring back the Kerry and Clinton/Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

SPERLING: But, Steve, we're down 2.9 million sector private -- private-sector jobs since he came into office. Let's forget the recession. Let's forget 9/11. Since the recession ended, we're down a million. Steve, our are standards

(CROSSTALK) FORBES: You're looking at the wrong survey. You're looking at the payroll -- you're looking at

(CROSSTALK)

FORBES: You're looking at the payroll survey.

(CROSSTALK)

SPERLING: I'm looking at what everybody has always looked at and regarded as the most significant survey.

(CROSSTALK)

FORBES: You're looking at the wrong thing.

SPERLING: Steve, Steve...

FORBES: As a journalist, Paul, you shouldn't look at what everyone else looks at.

SPERLING: Steve, Steve, let's look at George Bush. George Bush and Scott McClellan said 366,000 jobs. So let's just look at what they say. That was payroll jobs over the last six months. At that pace, do you know, Paul, do you know, Tucker, when George Bush will create his first net private sector job? May 2007.

CARLSON: Well, I saw that on a bumper sticker, I think, Gene.

(CROSSTALK)

SPERLING: May 2007 before he's one job up.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Mr. Forbes, let me let you respond, sir.

FORBES: Paul, Paul, the jobs have already been -- are being created as we speak.

And contrary to what some of these Democrat candidates say, the United States today is importing more good-paying jobs than it's exporting. We're creating a lot of new businesses, a lot of sole proprietorships. And it takes a while for government statisticians to catch onto it. That's why you look at household surveys, actually find out who's working and who isn't. The jobs are starting to be created. And as this economy gets real traction, the job creation is going to get even better.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Well, Gene Sperling, John Kerry himself, who makes a similar point to the one Mr. Forbes just made, I want to read you something that's kind of amazing, that John Kerry said this.

This is from December 3 -- quote -- "Any candidate for president who stands up and tells people, as some are, that they're going to just stop outsourcing by getting tough on trade or whatever, that person is lying to the American people. Outsourcing is particularly painful now because we haven't been creating jobs. We haven't been creating jobs to some measure because of the overhang of the 1990s, the excess capacity we were left with and the need to sort of burn it up."

In other words, just what Steve Forbes says. The bubble bursting, the bubble over which you and Clinton presided, that is the cause of job loss.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That is John Kerry talking.

SPERLING: Tucker, Tucker, George Bush did inherit a slowing economy. He also inherited 4.1 percent....

CARLSON: Your slowing economy.

SPERLING: You know what, Tucker? You want to run against the Clinton economic record?

CARLSON: I'm not running against anything.

SPERLING: Tucker, you want to compare 23 million jobs, a doubling of productivity -- you ready for this? -- 40 months with unemployment below 4 percent., the lowest poverty levels in 20 years, I'll take that against the worst job record since Herbert Hoover, the only time since the Depression we've ever had a recovery where people have lost a million jobs.

And, Tucker, I don't hold George Bush accountable for every bad thing that's happened. He did have a slowing economy and he had 9/11. But what I hold him accountable for is that, in light of that, he focused on supply-side tax cuts, instead of the things that would jump-start job growth, increase confidence. And a John Kerry or a John Edwards or an Al Gore would have had a stronger confidence, stronger fiscal policy and stronger job growth.

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FORBES: Gene, Gene, the way

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sorry to do this to you, Mr. Forbes, but we're going to have to let you respond when we come back.

And when we bring you back, we'll put you in the "Rapid Fire," where the questions will come faster than jobs moving overseas.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer will bring you the latest on the growing tension in Haiti and what the United States is doing in response.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. Look forward to your report at the top of the hour.

Here, CROSSFIRE is now time for "Rapid Fire."

In New York is Steve Forbes, the CEO, editor in chief of Forbes Inc. He's here in our D.C. studios. Gene Sperling, who, of course, was chairman of the National Economic Council under President Clinton, the greatest president in my lifetime.

Mr. Forbes, was George W. Bush telling the truth when he said that we can have tax relief without fear of budget deficits, even if the economy softens?

FORBES: I think President Bush was right. If you want a vibrant economy, reduce the tax burden. You'll get more government revenues. And then the real challenge is, Paul, to make sure you and your political friends don't spend all the extra money.

CARLSON: Gene, people who -- holders of low-skilled jobs have been hurt with globalization over the past 20 years, and yet Democrats have seemed to have no idea what to do about the seven million illegal aliens in this country and the many more legal immigrants coming in. When are you going to propose what to do about that?

SPERLING: Yes, it's a good question.

But I'll tell you, when I dealt in the administration, immigration was extremely difficult. And I'll tell you, it never broke along party lines. It was more regional. It was more people's economic positions. So the one thing I disagree with you on is the suggestion that there's kind of a lack of a Democrat vs. Republican response.

CARLSON: No, you're right. You're right. I agree.

SPERLING: People have worked together on that.

BEGALA: Mr. Forbes, the Republicans control the House. Republicans control the Senate. Republicans control the White House. Which party should be held accountable for the trillions of dollars in new debt that they've run up in the last three years?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) FORBES: Paul, Paul, part of it is politicians in both parties. Most of it is the recession and fighting a war.

CARLSON: OK.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Gene Sperling, very quickly, former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has voiced regret about running a populist campaign with Al Gore in 2000. Do you think Kerry is going to get far doing the same this year?

SPERLING: I think it's very important that -- that Senator Kerry or Senator Edwards...

(BELL RINGING)

SPERLING: ... whoever is the nominee, has a positive, optimistic message. What Bill Clinton did well in '92 was, he was populist, but he talked about the future and he talked about future jobs. That's what you have to do to become president.

CARLSON: Maybe -- maybe you can help Senator Kerry. Maybe you can't.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Gene Sperling, thanks a lot for joining us. Steve Forbes, in New York, we appreciate it. Thank you.

FORBES: Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you both.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Well, every candidate has to find his inner rock star at some point. Next, we'll explore John Kerry's journey in that direction.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Well, Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon played the piano. Bill Clinton played the saxophone from time to time. Is the country for a president who plays classical guitar? Better than French horn.

John Kerry serenaded reporters on his campaign plane yesterday. The romance he's playing is a far cry from the kind of music Kerry used to fancy. He played bass in the early 1960s version of a garage band that was named the Electras.

And, you know, Paul, he also wore a pinkie ring during those years, I noticed from a photograph. BEGALA: Is that right?

CARLSON: Is the nation ready for a man who used to wear a pinkie ring?

BEGALA: Well, you didn't give President Bush his due. He plays the air guitar. He jumps around at night and -- you know.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: And he's quite good at it. And it's fun.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: No, but there's a Ravi Shankar quality you got to

(CROSSTALK)

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.

(APPLAUSE)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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