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Bush on the Money?

Aired December 16, 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: President Bush's plans for your money.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fundamental question that faces government, are we willing to confront the problem now or pass it onto future congresses and future generations? I have made a declaration to the American people that now is the time to confront Social Security.

ANNOUNCER: Mr. Bush says he wants to give you more control over how your retirement money in invested. Others argue it would make a sick system even sicker.




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


Fixing our ailing Social Security system, our tax system, our health care system and, maybe most important, chipping away at the mountain of frivolous lawsuits that choke our courts, inspire greed and laziness and turn Americans against one another, those are topics on the agenda at President Bush's economic summit this week.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, the president surrounded himself with yes men and you-betcha women who spent the last two days telling our commander in chief that his crackpot ideas for privatizing Social Security and driving up the debt are in fact just brilliant. They also went on to tell him he's a great dancer and makes a mean pot roast.


BEGALA: President Bush's economic plan and its critics and its toadies in the CROSSFIRE today.

And we begin as we always do with the best political little briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

As I mentioned a moment ago, President Bush told a handpicked conference of toadies, suck-ups and sycophants that he's -- quote -- "passionate" about limiting consumers' rights to sue corporations or doctors who harm them. Now, that must have come as music to the ears of Dr. Willie C. Blair, a Maryland surgeon and a leading advocate for making it harder for patients to sue doctors who kill or maim them.

According to today's "Washington Times," Dr. Blair testified under oath -- quote -- "I've been trying to set people on fire for the last three months and I just can't do it" -- unquote. Dr. Blair was an expert witness in a case involving a woman who was burned in an operating room fire. He insists in today's "Washington Times" that he was speaking tongue in cheek and he never actually tried to torch an actual patient.

But when President Bush tries to limit our rights, he's clearly playing with fire.

CARLSON: You know, here's the bottom line, Paul.


BEGALA: Set a guy on fire.


CARLSON: Lawsuits against doctors have driven doctors out of business across this country. You get in a car accident in West Virginia, you have high-risk pregnancy in Mississippi, you have brain trouble in Nevada and you're in trouble, because doctors have been driven from those states.


BEGALA: By greed insurance companies who have lost money in the Bush stock market. That's what going on.


CARLSON: You can interrupt me, if you like.

BEGALA: I just did.


CARLSON: The physicians themselves -- physicians -- take a poll of physicians.


CARLSON: Are they for tort reform? Yes. Why?


BEGALA: Because they don't want to be accountable when they set a guy on fire in the operating room.

CARLSON: Blame the doctors if you want.


BEGALA: You go to Dr. Blair. I'm sure he's a lovely man, but he said a foolish thing.


CARLSON: All right.

We're from the United Nations and we're here to help. Well, utter that sentence in any poor country on this earth and you'll get bitter laughter, at best. Say it in Congo and you're likely to start a fight. U.N. peacekeepers in that country have been accused of almost 70 sex crimes, including pedophilia, the use of child prostitutes and the forcible rape of a 10-year-old in the back of an armored personnel carrier.

According to today's "Washington Post," investigators looking into the charges have been threatened by violence by U.N. employees. meanwhile, in Iraq, yet another country that desperately needs the help of the civilized world, there are almost no U.N. peacekeepers. So far, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pledged a total of only 25 observers to oversee next month's election in Iraq.

In other words, if you have got a surplus of prostitution, the U.N. is delighted to help you. But if you're trying to change your country from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy, well, some other time. It is getting harder by the day every day to defend the United Nations. And yet, for reasons still not clear, liberals keep trying.

BEGALA: Liberals like Secretary of State Colin Powell, who today praised...


CARLSON: Yes, that's right, liberals like Colin Powell.


BEGALA: He's not a liberal. He works for George W. Bush.

CARLSON: Actually, he is a liberal, as you know.


BEGALA: How about Senator John Danforth, who praised Annan's personal integrity this week?

CARLSON: I think that is a foolish position. I would never defend it.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Senator Danforth also, by the way, praised the integrity of Clarence Thomas.



BEGALA: I'm just pointing out two famous conservatives this week who are defending the U.N.

CARLSON: You are actually interrupting me and not letting me speak.


CARLSON: Why do you think -- why do you think the U.N. is only in sending 25 observers to Iraq for the election?

BEGALA: Because Bush can't make it secure, because he already lost a whole bunch of people there, like Sergio Vieira de Mello. And he doesn't have any faith in our ability to keep it safe.

Well, this update from the conservative values front. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani spanked his protege, Bernard Kerik, publicly today in "The New York Daily News," presumably for some of the very same conduct that landed Mr. Giuliani in the gossip columns just a few years ago.

Billy Tauzin, the Republican congressman who wrote the prescription drug bill that shovels billions to giant pharmaceutical corporations, has been hired as a lobbyist for giant pharmaceutical corporations. And we also learned today of conservative hypocrisy on an historic scale. New evidence has emerged that Queen Victoria, that paragon of, well, Victorian virtue, may have spent years getting busy with a stable hand after her husband's death.

Conservatives, from Margaret Thatcher to Dr. Gertrude Himmelfarb of NYU, have held up Queen Victoria as a model of virtues, like chastity. Well, now we know the enduring and true conservative attribute is not chastity. It is hypocrisy.

Queen Victoria getting busy.

CARLSON: Yes. I'm not going defend Queen Victoria. I know nothing about her sex life. I'm surprised by your fascination on other people's sex lives, considering your experience with Clinton.

BEGALA: Queen Victoria...


CARLSON: And I will say -- and I will say, however...

BEGALA: No, I'm talking about hypocrisy.

CARLSON: ... that Giuliani and Kerik I don't think are ever on record scolding other people for committing adultery. You accused Kerik yesterday on the show of committing adultery.

BEGALA: No, I didn't.

CARLSON: Yes, you did.

BEGALA: No, I did not.

CARLSON: You repeated charges he committed adultery.

BEGALA: And today, I accused Giuliani of hypocrisy for criticizing his friend for many of the same things...



CARLSON: There is no hypocrisy in what those guys did. It may be wrong.

BEGALA: Massive hypocrisy.

CARLSON: But it's not hypocritical. No, I never heard Bernie Kerik or Rudy Giuliani say it is wrong to cheat.


BEGALA: Read the "Daily News" today. Rudy is attacking Kerik and some of same behavior has been attributed to Mr. Giuliani.


CARLSON: Well, I don't take my personal marriage cues from Rudy Giuliani.

BEGALA: Well...


CARLSON: Anyway.

Well, you may be wondering why John Kerry lost the last election. Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, thinks she knows the answer. As she told an audience at Harvard yesterday, it was those darn Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. They weren't true at all, Cahill said, but for some reason television networks kept playing them over and over.

In other words, Kerry lost the election because Republicans and the media are mean. That's right, not because Kerry was a bad candidate with no message and even less charisma, not because he spent almost three years talking about a war that ended 30 years ago and ignoring the war in progress, no, not because his positions on social issues were far to the left of just about everyone outside Cambridge, Massachusetts, not because he was a robot programmed by every special interest group from NARAL to the trial lawyers, no, not at all. It was a single political ad that did it. Right. Keep telling yourself that. And, please, if you're a Democrat thinking about running for president in 2008, please do the rest of us a favor and hire Mary Beth Cahill as soon as possible. She's terrific. Really.


BEGALA: Those -- that first ad was dishonest. And Mary Beth is right to say the first ad was dishonest.

CARLSON: It's pathetic. It's pathetic.

BEGALA: But she's wrong to attack the media for covering it. The media did the right thing. They covered the story. It was a big story. The ad, most of the media agreed, was false.

But the Kerry campaign didn't respond. They should have responded and they should have defended themselves.


BEGALA: And they should, more importantly, have attacked President Bush's poor stewardship of our country.


BEGALA: And he would have won.

CARLSON: I do think she's the perfect campaign manager for the next nominee of your party. I mean, that's terrific. She and Bob Shrum, they can run it together again, quite a track record. I hope they get it. I really do.

BEGALA: I know you do.

Well, President Bush today promised lower taxes for the rich, private Social Security accounts for the young, and a lower deficit for us all. But even Republican experts say Mr. Bush's plans will add trillions to the debt. In a moment, we'll debate whether our president has been singing that old Merle Haggard song about how we'll all be drinking that free bubble up and eating that rainbow stew.

And Bill Clinton, my old boss, has been doing a little Christmas shopping. We'll look at what's on his shopping list later in the CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Will President Bush's economic this week at the White House -- economic summit this week -- be the ticket for putting the U.S. on the path to total, complete and utter economic recovery?

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE to debate it, former White House national economic adviser Gene Sperling, now director of economic programs at the Center For American Progress, and also Stephen Moore, president of the Club For Growth.


BEGALA: It's good to see you both again.


BEGALA: Stephen, I love when you come on the show, because, unlike a few of my friends on the right, you are utterly principled and honest about these issues. You're a real conservative.


BEGALA: Yes. Please do. Use it in your brochures. It may hurt you. You won't raise any more money.

But President Bush today, however, is not always very forthcoming. Here is one of many things he said today that I find appallingly dishonest. Here's our president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The issues of baby boomers like us retiring, relative to the number of payers into the system, should say to Congress and the American people we have a problem.

And the fundamental question that faces government, are we willing to confront the problem now or pass it on future congresses and future generations?


BEGALA: Now, he says that a lot. We're not going pass our problems on to future generations.

MOORE: Right.

BEGALA: Well, first off, he has passed on an enormous about of debt. And here's today, today alone, the additional debt he proposed to pass along to our children and grandchildren, just two of the president's proposals just in the next 10 years. Now, these programs will last for 75 or 100 years, but just in 10 years, extending the tax cuts and privatizing part of Social Security will cost our children $4.2 trillion.

MOORE: No, no, no, no.

BEGALA: How is he going to pay for it? Where does that $4.2 trillion come?

MOORE: Paul, Social Security reform doesn't cost money. It saves money.

BEGALA: Oh. Now, see, I just...


MOORE: We have a $10 trillion unfunded liability in the system, $10 trillion.

BEGALA: So you're going to add $4 trillion more to it.

MOORE: This is the Titanic headed to the iceberg. You're the captain of the ship and you are saying, everything is just fine. Let's just keep on the path we're on.

BEGALA: So the answer is more icebergs, more debt, right?

MOORE: President Bush is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt, who created this program in the 1930s, to modernize it. What is it about you liberals that you're so afraid about giving every individual worker in America control of their own paycheck? That's all we're talking about.



CARLSON: I'm sorry. That's five questions by my count, so I'm just going to jump in here. Excuse me.

Mr. Sperling, the Democratic position on Social Security appears to be, everything is fine. The system is not going to blow up for quite some time. In the meantime, calm down. And the Bush administration's position, as you know, is, let's do something about it now, because, pretty soon, the bill is going to come due.

I want to put up probably the most famous poll ever taken on Social Security. It was taken 10 years ago. But I think it says something important.


GENE SPERLING, FORMER CLINTON ECONOMIC ADVISER: I know exactly the one you're talking about.

CARLSON: Yes. This was taken by Luntz Research, Frank Luntz. And it asked two questions. Will Social Security exists by the time you retire? Twenty-eight percent say yes. Second question, do you believe in UFOs? Forty-six percent say yes. (LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: More people believe in UFOs than they do in Social Security being there when they retire. The Bush administration is on the side of the vast majority of the public. It's on the side of history. And it's on the side of what's right, isn't it?

SPERLING: You know, for a lot of the last few years, apparently, more people believe in UFOs than approved of President Bush's economic policies, too.



MOORE: That's why they voted for him, right?

SPERLING: Look, Tucker, let me tell you where I agree with the president a little and where I think he's being very disingenuous.

What I agree with is, I do believe that, even though Social Security does not become insolvent until 2042, we as a country would be better to take on the problem now. I agree with that. Here's what is disingenuous. One, it does not require a radical restructuring. It doesn't require privatization. We should do more now, but we should do it by increasing national savings.

This is what Republicans like Alan Greenspan and Pete Peterson always talk about. Save more. Be generationally responsible, so it is easier. What has the president done? National savings is the lowest over the last six quarters since it's been since 1934, largely because of his fiscal policy. He's going to add making the tax cut permanent for the well off, which would have been enough money to save Social Security. And now he says, let's borrow $2 trillion.


CARLSON: Right. I know. He's going to mortgage our future and all that.

But let me just suggest...


SPERLING: Well, you know what?


SPERLING: You know what, Tucker? You know what, Tucker?


CARLSON: Hold on. Let me just finish my question, please.

In 2018, just to correct you, in 2018, which is only 14 years from now, according to the board of trustees of overseers of Social Security, that's, again, only 14 years. Benefits will overtake revenues. So that's actually pretty soon. But why not means tests for Social Security? Why should -- why should a rich guy, why should Bill Gates get the same benefits as someone who is poor? Why can't Democrats get behind that idea? There's class warfare in that. I think you would like it. What is wrong with that?

SPERLING: Well, here's the three conditions I think Democrats should have for working with President Bush.

One, it should be something that actually increases national savings now.


MOORE: Private accounts do increase national savings.

SPERLING: No, they don't. No. No, they don't. They do not at all.

They just shift money and freeze in the harm that's already been done to our deficit through these tax cuts. We increase national savings. Second, I, as you know, support individual savings accounts, like USA Accounts. I call them now universal 401(k) accounts, where we do let more people save and invest. I just don't believe we have to carve up Social Security to do it.

So, I would like to work with Republicans on something that helps lower-income and moderate families save. And, third, if we're going to do the difficult things, let's have mutual sacrifice. The amount of tax cut that goes to...


SPERLING: No, no. Actually, mutual sacrifice means mutual.

But it does mean that, how can you say to seniors, we have to cut your benefits, but we could afford to give the top 1 percent enough to save. Let's at least have half of the savings come from repealing some of that tax cut to the top 1 percent. But then I would say let's have a bipartisan process.


MOORE: Because the tax cut is working.


SPERLING: Oh, it is a great economy, Stephen. It's a great record.

BEGALA: If you're right and Social Security is in such desperate trouble, which it is not -- it's a big fraud.

MOORE: You don't believe that...

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: I know it's not, except for the president's tax cuts.


BEGALA: Why not just ask some of the rich, 1 percent, to just forego their tax cut and we'll have plenty of money to save Social Security?

MOORE: Because you know what? We just had an election on that issue and 51 percent of the voters rejected it. You all cannot get off this theme of raise taxes on the rich.

BEGALA: Mutual responsibility for our country's future, yes.

MOORE: The economy -- Bush put in place in 2003 a tax cut that cut the capital gains tax, cut the...


BEGALA: I understand.

MOORE: And the economy has boomed since then.


BEGALA: The deficit is in a ditch.


MOORE: Look at what has happened. We have got...


MOORE: ... percent economic growth. The stock market is up by 30 percent.

And the key point here is, what Bush is talking about is taking control away from the bureaucrats and giving it to young workers. This is power to the people.


MOORE: No. I remember in 1960s it was the liberals who believed power to the people. This is the most empowering idea that we've had by a president in 50 years.

SPERLING: You don't need to do it by carving up Social Security and creating a slippery slope.


CARLSON: Can I interrupt you guys just really quickly?


CARLSON: I feel like we're almost to solving the Social Security mess.

But I will just move on to another topic quickly, since we're almost out of time. And that is tort reform. Everybody knows lawsuits are out of control. Frivolous lawsuits are out of control in this country. And you know, Gene, having been around Democratic politics all your life, that Democrat -- that the life blood of the Democratic Party is money from trial lawyers. So they won't acknowledge it.

I want to suggest that the average person knows they're out of control, these lawsuits. Case in point, 1995, American Airlines flight, New York to Los Angeles, experiences 28 seconds of turbulence, no one killed or badly injured. The passengers sue because it is scary; $2 million, they received.

SPERLING: Nine years ago.

CARLSON: Is there any -- is there any -- well, I can pick one that happened 20 minutes ago. Is there any lawsuit like that that you could point at and say this is frivolous; yes, we need reform?

SPERLING: I think there are lots of lawsuits that are frivolous and I think we should try to end them.

But, you know, we could pull John Edwards' book out there and we have this place crying with the bad things that have happened to people and saying God bless our legal system for letting them get redressed.

Now, let's be honest about one thing. When you cap damages, you're not stopping the frivolous cases. You're stopping the cases where courts found there was a meritorious case. So if you're really serious about it, then let's talk about how to stop frivolous lawsuits. Let's make people have to go through some kind of a process to file a case. Let's sanction lawyers who repeatedly bring frivolous lawsuits.

But denying people who have meritorious claims their day in court has never been shown to bring down health care premiums. And that is exactly what this -- gets locked on. It's damage caps, punitive damage caps. Those are for meritorious...



CARLSON: We're going to have to go to a commercial break really quick.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," a majority of Americans thinks the economy is pretty good. Didn't anyone listen to John Kerry over the past three years? He said, it's bad, depression. And are there any hidden messages in Osama bin Laden's latest videotape? Wolf Blitzer has the story right after this.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the CIA says it has a high degree of confidence the speaker on a new audiotape is in fact Osama bin Laden. They're studying it right now for possible clues. President Bush talks about his plans to rein in the deficit and reform Social Security. And remember the flu shot shortage? You may be surprised by the latest developments. We'll talk about that live with the CDC's Dr. Julie Gerberding.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

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

Here at CROSSFIRE, it is time for our "Rapid Fire" segment, where we pose questions almost, almost, as fast as President Bush can add a few trillion dollars to the national debt.

Our guests today, Stephen Moore, president of the Club For Growth, and my old pal Gene Sperling from the Clinton White House. He is today director of economic programs at the very fine Center For American Progress.

CARLSON: Gene, quick question, I hope a quick answer. I asked you a second ago, are for means testing? I'm asking you again, are you for it or not for Social Security?

SPERLING: I think the important thing is to have mutual sacrifice. I think, if we could do at least half of this by repealing some tax cut for the well-off, I would think we would have a bipartisan process.

CARLSON: Mean testing for the well-off, I'm talking about, for the rich.


SPERLING: But I think that, if you did have a Social Security reform, if you actually had people come together seriously, you probably could find some ways to adjust benefits that would just affect the very most well-off. That would make sense as part of an overall package.

BEGALA: Let me go to Stephen.

The president always says he wants to work with Congress to reduce spending. How many spending bills has he ever vetoed?

MOORE: Zero.

BEGALA: How many federal agencies has he shut down? MOORE: No, President Bush's performance on cutting spending has been dreadful. It is my big hope in the second term that they start to get serious. You talked about that $2 trillion in debt. It is because of the overspending. It has nothing to do with the Bush tax cuts.


CARLSON: Gene, we -- those of us who listen to John Kerry spent three years hearing about, we're on the cusp of a worldwide depression, essentially. And yet, in the latest poll done by CBS News/"New York Times," the majority of Americans think the economy is good. Why is that?

SPERLING: You know, Tucker, I just wonder how this conversation would go if the facts were reversed. Bill Clinton in the eight years, the economy added 236,000 jobs.


CARLSON: ... Clinton. Please, I can't bear...


SPERLING: No, no, no. Well, you know what? Let's go back, then, as far as you want. This is the worst period of job growth in this recovery that we've had since the 1930s. That's a fact. Now, I used to get on TV...

CARLSON: Why don't people know that? That's my question. Why don't people know that? Why do they say the economy is good?

MOORE: Why are they feeling so good about things?

SPERLING: I think you're wrong. I thing poll after poll shows that people -- the ABC/"Money" poll -- I hate to have to repeat that here -- thinks more people think the economy is going in the worst direction.



MOORE: ... years of the Clinton administration -- of the Bush administration -- it was the residue of the Clinton recession.


SPERLING: Look, we all know that, if it was reversed, you all would be calling this the Clinton job depression. This is total political spin on your part. This has been a terrible job recovery.


CARLSON: I'm sorry. I would love to talk more about Bill Clinton. Actually, we're about to talk more about Bill Clinton. But we need a commercial break now.

Thank you very much, Gene Sperling.

Mr. Moore, thank you very much.


CARLSON: If you have been a friend of Bill Clinton, speaking of, for a while, you may look forward to a Christmas gift from the former president. Or maybe you won't look forward to it. We'll tell you what Mr. Clinton is giving his friends for Christmas.

We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back.

Well, let's say you're a former president and you just dedicated your presidential library a few week ago. Where do you do your Christmas shopping? That's a rhetorical question, of course. "The Washington Post" says it knows exactly what former President Bill Clinton will be giving this year. Clinton picked up the phone and ordered items from the gift shop at his very own library in Little Rock, Arkansas.


CARLSON: Among the things he selected are meowing Socks the cat dolls, toy Air Force Ones that make roaring engine noises, and plush stuffed donkeys.

What do all these gifts have in common? That's right. Every one of them is all about Bill Clinton, not surprisingly. All that's missing are autographed pictures. No doubt he'll give those, too.

BEGALA: Actually, he gave me a beautiful tie. I'm not wearing it now. I'll wear it tomorrow -- from Saks Fifth Avenue. It has little bitty monkeys on it. And it reminds me of some of my friends on the right.


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

CARLSON: I thought you would be grateful that I didn't have one nasty joke in that entire read. And I'll tell you, I turned down a lot of opportunities to be mean.


CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFILE, but -- FIRE.

(LAUGHTER) CARLSON: But stay tuned now for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Have a great night.



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