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Pain at the Pump

Aired May 18, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Prices at the pump just keep climbing.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a president who's fighting for the American worker, the American family at the fuel pumps to lower the price of gasoline in the United States.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the American people deserve more than cheap political rhetoric. The American people deserve leadership and action.

ANNOUNCER: Which candidate has the best plan to ease the pain at the pump?



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


Bad news for American drivers, good news for Democrats. For the first time, the average price of a gallon of gas has passed $2. Watch John Kerry try to make a political football out of it.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, the White House, of course, is under growing pressure to stop the price gouging, but is the president actually doing anything to prevent these price hikes? Pain at the pump, our topic today.

But first the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

At the funeral of Iraqi Governing Council President Izzadine Saleem today, the American viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, vowed to move ahead on handing over limited sovereignty on June 30 to -- well, he didn't say to whom because he can't say to whom because we don't know to whom we're going to hand over the keys to that large country of 25 million people...

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: ... which has the third largest petroleum reserves on Earth. President Bush, of course, has just 42 days to figure all this out.

And in today's "Washington Post," administration officials are despairing over Mr. Bush's colossal failure. A senior occupation official told "The Post -- quote -- "It would take a lot of doing for this to not end in a debacle. There is no confidence in the coalition. Why should there be?" -- unquote.

So, in a long list of casualties of this war, we can now add another, the credibility of President George W. Bush.


NOVAK: You know, you Democrats are praying for a debacle, for a failure in Iraq. It doesn't really become you, really. You should be hoping it will succeed.

And, in fact, as a matter of fact, Paul, it will be handed over -- sovereignty will be handed over to the Governing Council to the people who -- and the Governing Council. And that is just cheap political rhetoric.


NOVAK: Which I've come to expect from you.

BEGALA: We want a successful policy in Iraq. That's why we want a new president. That's how we'll get one.


NOVAK: John Kerry just has trouble dealing with Iraq.

He voted for the war. Then he voted against funding the war once it started. Now what is to be done? Talking reporters on his campaign plane, Kerry said -- quote -- "You have to give the president some room to get things done, but if he doesn't do what he has to do," then what? Then what, John? His voice trailed off before saying, "It's a difficult thing."

But anti-war voters have an alternative in Ralph Nader, who says -- quote -- "Kerry has to have an exit strategy. There is no light at the end of his tunnel" -- end quote. It's really tough on a candidate who doesn't know what he wants.

BEGALA: Well, John Kerry knows what he wants. He wants a new president with a successful Iraqi policy. But he has refused to politicize this.

He has said, I'm going to give the president space and time and room to try to do the right thing. But somehow the president stubbornly refuses to recognize that we're deeply off course in Iraq and we need to change course. Maybe the only thing to do is change presidents. (APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: That's good political spin.

BEGALA: It's true.

NOVAK: That's good political spin, Paul. But the matter of fact is that Ralph Nader is the elephant in the living room. He is saying there you must have a way to get out. And I say all the nutty Democrats...


BEGALA: ... for Nader.

NOVAK: Can I finish my sentence? All of the nutty Democrats who want to get out...


NOVAK: ... are going to go for Nader. And that is the problem.

BEGALA: Right-wingers for Nader, ladies and gentlemen.


BEGALA: Well, on April 24 of last year, President Bush visited the Timken plant in Canton, Ohio. Mr. Bush told the Timken workers that his tax cuts for the rich would create jobs. He also patronized them.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The greatest strength of the American economy is found right here, right in this room. It's found in the pride and skill of the American work force.


BEGALA: Well, if Mr. Bush were to see those workers today, he would still find men and women with pride and skill, but men and women without jobs. Despite the fact that Congress in fact passed Mr. Bush's tax cuts, which saved the big-shot CEO of Timken tens of thousands of dollars, Timken announced recently that it's closing the very plant that Mr. Bush visited and laying off 1,300 working men and women.

Mr. Bush's message apparently to those workers was probably best summed up by his role model, Otter from "Animal House," who said: "Hey, you screwed up. You trusted me."


NOVAK: You know, Paul, you've got a real task on your hands because you're going to have to argue that things are getting worse when they're getting better, 600,000 new jobs in the last two months. Things are getting better. You get on around the country and you know they're getting better, too.


BEGALA: No, not at all; 600,000 jobs, they pay less, 25 percent less.


BEGALA: No benefits; 1,300 people that Bush promised jobs got laid off.


BEGALA: Lay off George Bush and things will get better.


NOVAK: Did you notice -- did you notice that white flag flying from the White House today? It signified surrender by President Bush to the bully boy tactics of Senate Democrats. Teddy Kennedy has refused to permit the confirmation of judicial nominations who are conservatives. So, in self-defense, the president put on the bench two judges, well qualified, when the Senate was in recess.

Senate Democrats then refused to confirm any judges until President Bush promised to make no more recess appointments. The president agreed to that today, but that means Kennedy and the other Senate Democrats still will block judges they don't like, contradicting historic practice in this country. That serves left- wing pressure groups, but not the American people.


BEGALA: I say, God bless Ted Kennedy and God bless the Senate Democrats. George W. Bush does not have a right to put right-wing crackpots on the federal bench without the advice and consent of the United States Senate.


BEGALA: If he can't get the votes in the Senate, he doesn't deserve to have those judges on the court.

NOVAK: Paul, let me tell you something.

BEGALA: That's his job as president.


BEGALA: ... Senate to confirm them.

NOVAK: See, I'm a realistic and not a political hack, so I'll tell you, there's possibility that Mr. Kerry will be elected.


NOVAK: Just a minute. If I could finish my sentence, if you're not so rude.


NOVAK: Senator Kerry, will, if he is president, he will have one hell of a time getting any judges confirmed in that Senate, I guarantee you.

BEGALA: This is a threat here. This is a threat from the Republican right.


NOVAK: Yes, sir.

BEGALA: Watch, they're going to attack his wife next.

Well, we bet you are feeling pain at the pump. Next, why won't the president left a finger or even dial a phone to ask his buddies in the Arab world to ease off on the gas gouging?

And then later, why is this doll headed for a California courtroom and what does it have to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger? We'll tell you why later.

ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to and sign up today.


NOVAK: This is the presidential campaign season, when everything is a political issue, including $2 regular gasoline. Can John Kerry really convince a gullible public that it's George W. Bush's fault?

In the CROSSFIRE, today two members of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado and Republican Darrell Issa of California.

BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure. Thank you.


BEGALA: Congressman Issa, can you tell me one time that President Bush has ever stood up to big oil companies on behalf of consumers?

ISSA: Actually, the energy bill is a very balanced bill. It's being held in the Senate, but in fact it talks about and provides for a lot of energy-saving activities.

BEGALA: Any provisions in there that Exxon and Mobil oppose?

ISSA: Well, look, if you're in the oil business, you would just as soon...

BEGALA: Have Bush.

ISSA: Not have energy savings, not have alternative -- do you know we've got a tremendous amount of wind money? We've got major proposals for solar and to continue all the alternative fuels. We even have, in my home state of California, we're trying to put hybrids into the HOB lanes to encourage that. That's in the bill.


BEGALA: Exxon doesn't oppose any of that.

ISSA: Well, look, what's in the best interest for Exxon is in fact exactly what's happening. The Democrats blocked ANWR, where our dependence is more on offshore oil. And of course they're over there exploring it.

So the best way in the world to, if you will, defeat big oil is in fact to have oversupply, something that we're being blocked from doing.

NOVAK: Congresswoman DeGette, I want to have a little reality dose.

REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: I think that would be a good idea.

NOVAK: With all the stuff I've been hearing.


NOVAK: Today, the gas, the price of gas -- we're going to put it up on the screen -- is $2. In 1981, just as Jimmy Carter was leaving office, we'll take a look at that, the price, adjusted for inflation, was $2.90. Now, can you tell me any other commodity, any commodity, housing, anything you could think of, cars, that is cheaper, adjusted for inflation, today than it was 21, 24 years ago?

DEGETTE: There might be some. I can't think of them off the top of my head. But let me talk about what my colleague


NOVAK: No, I want you to answer my question.

DEGETTE: I can't think of one off the top of my head.

NOVAK: So it's a phony thing, then.


DEGETTE: But let me tell you something. Let me tell you something.

Gas just a few months ago was well under $2 a gallon and this energy bill does nothing to solve it. I don't know if my colleague was in the same hearings, but I thought


DEGETTE: Just listen.

ISSA: How does an energy solve it when it's been held up? Let us pass it.

DEGETTE: Just listen.

NOVAK: Let her talk.

DEGETTE: All of the amendments we did in the committee for renewable energy, for conservation, all were defeated if the big oil companies didn't like them. And this energy policy was written behind closed doors in the White House without any of the meaningful things in it that would have saved money.


ISSA: I don't know about the legislation you worked on, but my legislation which I got to help craft in fact came out of the House, came out of our committees and clearly includes a lot of things that completely bubbled up from California.

NOVAK: I don't want to regurgitate that whole energy bill.


NOVAK: I just want to continue my reality dose.

You know, people, Diana, are really laughing at Americans when they are crying about $2 gasoline. Let's take a look at this. Prices in U.S. dollars today a gallon, United Kingdom, $5, Netherlands, $5, France, nearly $5, Germany $4.5, Japan, $4.25. We're $2. This is a bargain. This is the cheapest gasoline anywhere in the industrialized world.

DEGETTE: You're right.


DEGETTE: I can't argue with that.

But you know what? My constituents don't think about that when they call my office to complain that their gas prices are over $2 a gallon. They're not complaining.

NOVAK: They're spoiled.

DEGETTE: They're not complaining to Congressman Issa. His gas prices are about $2.35 a gallon.

Now, maybe they are spoiled, but I think our energy policy needs to have a reality dose. And the reality dose we need to have, we need to have more renewables. We need to have more conservation. Gas could be even cheaper in this country.


BEGALA: But let me read you a very specific pledge that then my governor, George W. Bush of Texas, made when he was running to become president on this very topic of Arab gouging, the cartel, which controls the price of oil. Here's what George W. Bush said in the debate.


BEGALA: Here's what the president said -- the governor then said in the debate: "What I think the president ought to do is, he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, `We expect you to open your spigots! OPEC has gotten its supply act together and its driving the price, like it did in the past. And the president must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price."

That's what he said he would do if he were president. He is president now. His press secretary, Scott McClellan, was asked this question. "He, the president, is not calls to OPEC individuals himself, is he?" White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says no.

Why didn't the president keep his word?

ISSA: The fact is, the president made a real effort to get the spigot turned on and to keep it turned on. During the Nigerian oil problem, they increased production. During the Venezuelan shutdown, they increased production. Today OPEC, for better or worse, which includes Venezuela -- it's not just Arabs -- in fact produces more oil than it did during Jimmy Carter or Bush I or Clinton.

Our reliance on them has driven up their total volume again and again and again. We have a couple of problems. And one of the biggest is, we haven't built a refinery in this country in 30 years. We're at 96-plus percent refining capacity right now. The truth is, the difference between oil prices and gas prices includes a shortage of refining capacity.

We have a lot of problems in this country. And not dealing with the energy bill, having it blocked by my colleague here is part of the problem.



BEGALA: Surely our president, coming out of the energy industry, actually, I think he has got a complex understanding of all of those nuances. He didn't say any of those things, Congressman. He made a promise to every person in this audience, everyone listening to us, he said, if you make me president, I'll get on the phone and jawbone the OPEC nations. His press secretary says he hasn't kept that promise. I'm asking you, shouldn't the president keep his word?

(APPLAUSE) ISSA: His press secretary has said in answer to one time, one question.

I will tell you, I've traveled in the Arab world probably 15 times since I've been a member of Congress, and most recently 30-some days ago. The fact is, they are producing and they're keeping volumes reasonably high. OPEC prices have a lot to do with uncertainty. It has to do with an awful lot of problems. Now, am I going to take the effort off of that? No.

We are in fact a world that is producing more oil and consuming it. And if you want to look at one of the core problems, it's the fact that China is doubling every three years its oil consumption.

DEGETTE: So I guess, then, the congressman thinks that it's just fine if gas prices continue to go up and the president never does intend to call OPEC. And that's part of the problem with this administration.


NOVAK: Congresswoman, you talk about renewable fuel. Now, your candidate, Senator Kerry, has a whole -- he's a very rich guy and he has this whole fleet of gas burners. He has an SUV that goes about 12 miles to the gallon.

BEGALA: It's a family car.

NOVAK: It's his car.


NOVAK: The question is, is he setting a good example for America? What kind of impact does it have when you talk about renewable fuels and he's burning gas in an old gas guzzler?


DEGETTE: I don't think the American public -- I don't think the American public care about what the Kerry family drives, so much as they care about what energy policy is driving this country.

And just right now, not only is the president failing to call OPEC, like he said he is, but also, despite this sharp increase in gas prices that we're seeing, with no end in sight, by the way, what you're seeing is the administration is adding 170 barrels a day to the Strategic Reserve.

ISSA: You better believe it.

DEGETTE: And Senator Kerry and I, we don't believe that we should be drawing down on the Strategic Reserve, as some senators have suggested.

(CROSSTALK) DEGETTE: But what we do think is that right now in this time, we could be using that to stabilize gas prices while we negotiate with OPEC. Neither -- the administration just seems to have a laissez- faire attitude, whatever happens happens.



NOVAK: We'll out of time. We have to take a break.

But we're going to come back, so don't feel badly, because next in "Rapid Fire" we'll ask our guests whether John Kerry now regrets his support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax.

And what can we learn from New York City's experience during the 9/11 attack? Wolf Blitzer reports.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a dreaded record at the pump, the average price of a gallon of gas now above $2.

Back at ground zero, tough questions from the 9/11 Commissioners over severe flaws in New York's emergency communications systems.

With the first court-martial in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal set to start tomorrow, I'll speak live with the attorney for one of the defendants.

Those stories, much more only minute away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the question come just about as fast as President Bush can break that promise to jawbone the oil sheiks.


BEGALA: In the CROSSFIRE, two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They are Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California, Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado.

NOVAK: Congresswoman, 10 years ago, John Kerry proposed a 50- cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax. Would we have been better off if we had been paying the government all those years 50 cents more in gas tax?

DEGETTE: Well, that was proposal that never made it to legislation. It was a much bigger proposal. He's explained his position on that.

BEGALA: And a few years before that, when Dick Cheney was in the House, he said -- and I quote -- "Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States." He called for a $1.2 trillion tax on oil.

Did you think Dick Cheney was right?

ISSA: You know, Dick Cheney has constantly tried to have new oil reserves discovered and helped made available to help make oil available and at a price that we can live with.

You know, we could argue over -- quote -- "taxes." And certainly Kerry has wanted to increase taxes as a way of fueling savings on oil.

BEGALA: But not as much as Dick Cheney.

ISSA: But Dick Cheney, if anything, has been one of the people that gets maligned right here for the fact that he worked on energy problems with the energy industry to try to produce more energy.

NOVAK: Congresswoman, would you be in favor of more refineries to refine gasoline, so we can have some gasoline?

DEGETTE: Well, I don't think refineries are the problem, but if we needed more refineries to refine it...

NOVAK: You don't think we need refineries?


The reason that gas prices are going up right now is not because the problem of refineries. That's a fine excuse. But getting back to it, if the president would talk to OPEC, if we'd look at the reserves, then we'd be in better shape and if we would pass a sensible energy policy.


BEGALA: Should Congress force Detroit to make more fuel- efficient cars, to raise the corporate average fuel economy?

ISSA: We are doing exactly that. And CAFE standards continue to go up.

Our problem, along with cleaner and cleaner cars, our problem is the consumer public has wanted to buy SUVs instead of Priuses like I own and other people own. We each make our own choice. My wife and I, kids are blown. A Prius fits us fine.

BEGALA: They're going to throw you out of the Republican Party if you drive a Prius.


BEGALA: That's the hybrid car. But good for you, though. Congratulations.



ISSA: The fact is, though, that if I had five young kids, the SUV would be appropriate. Americans want to have choice. And I think improving the air quality and the fuel economy is important, but at the same time, you can't fight, you can't fight choice.



BEGALA: Congressman Darrell Issa from California, I'm sorry. Congresswoman Diana DeGette from Colorado, thank you both for a lively and interesting and fun debate.

More to come. Apparently, tough guy Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't hike to play with dolls. Next, find out why this bobbleheaded doll is transforming the Terminator into the litigator.

Stay with us.




BEGALA: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is trying to terminate a bobblehead doll that looks a lot like him.

The governor's film production company is suing the Ohio firm that makes the doll, claiming that it exploits Mr. Schwarzenegger's image for commercial purposes. The bobblehead doll features Governor Schwarzenegger wearing an ammo belt and toting an assault rifle.


BEGALA: The company claims public figures are fair game. It is already producing a series of political dolls, including Senator John Kerry, the next president of the United States.


BEGALA: Former Governor Howard Dean. But it's two biggest sellers are likenesses of Anna Nicole Smith and -- get this, Bob -- Jesus Christ. Something should be beyond bobbleheads. These are fun.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, if they -- if they decided to make a Paul Begala bobblehead...


NOVAK: ... and if anybody wanted to buy it, you would be the first guy to claim property rights and say, give me my part of it.

BEGALA: No. If they made a Novak doll, the head would go back and forth, no, not yes.



BEGALA: All right, look, if you want to become a part of what we think is the ultimate "Fireback," here's how. Log on to your computer this Thursday and every Thursday 4:30 Eastern for another edition of CROSSFIRE interactive Thursdays. Give us your feedback while you watch the show and you can become eligible to win prizes, including an all-expense-paid trip to see CROSSFIRE live here in Washington. Just go to


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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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