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Republican Leaders Give Their Opinions on President Bush’s Economic Policies

August 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: For more on the economy and fiscal policy, we turn to Republican leaders from three diverse states: Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Congressman Phil English of Pennsylvania.

Gov. Huckabee we just heard the discussion about what the governor is facing in Alabama. What does this say to the economy in Arkansas right now?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, fortunately, thanks to some of the president’s policies, particularly putting money back in people’s hands, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement.

Just today I got news back from home that our overall revenues are up almost 11 percent from what they were a year ago. Unemployment numbers are dropping, nearly a point from a year ago. So we’re very optimistic that the recovery is in full swing, as we’ve seen several months of sustained economic growth.

GWEN IFILL: Are you reading the same story, Gov. Lingle, seeing from the same book I guess?

GOV. LINDA LINGLE: We do have the same story in Hawaii, Gwen; things are going very well economically, and I think because the visitor industry is our primary economic component; it’s important because it’s discretionary spending.

This is, when someone takes a vacation it means they have extra money to spend and our arrivals are up 9 percent over a year ago, and I think that’s a very strong indication, and 6.8 percent of that is from the mainland United States. So it’s an indication not only is the economy doing well in our state, but the economy is doing well across the country.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman English, you probably come from one of the most populous states in the union this year, –

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: That’s right.

GWEN IFILL: — Pennsylvania, and also a state which has suffered from economic downturns. It has been hit especially hard in the past several years.


GWEN IFILL: Would you say –

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: Some parts of our economy are coming back, Gwen. But I have to say in my particular set of communities, which is the biggest concentration of manufacturing, we tend to bounce back much later than other parts of the economy. So we are still experiencing something of a slowdown. As a result of that, it’s a difficult sell, and it’s a real challenge.

GWEN IFILL: So what is it that you would like to hear the president and his campaign say for hard hit steel workers or people in western Pennsylvania?

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: Well, as chairman of the steel caucus, I think that this president has been doing the right thing for that industry. For the rest of manufacturing –

GWEN IFILL: Which is what?

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: He went forward, and he put in place a steel policy that really rescued the steel industry, and now that steel industry is bouncing back. I think the administration needs to get out and talk about the positive things it’s been doing for manufacturing. For example, it has made an unprecedented engagement with China to tackle their unfair trade practices like manipulating currency.

Everyone from the president on down in their economic team has made the point to the Chinese that they have to float their currency. This is an unprecedented effort that the last administration didn’t do. I think this administration has been strengthening its trade policy, and I think has a lot to offer communities like ours. But we haven’t seen all the benefits yet. So I think it’s going to come to sticking on message.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Huckabee, one of the lagging indicators especially in the job numbers we hear periodically and we’ll hear again once the convention is over, is that the job creation hasn’t quite been where the predictions had been. Is that the case in Arkansas?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: I think that, you know, we’ve seen 12,700 jobs just in the last year created, that’s a very positive sign, unemployment as I said earlier is down. But one of the things we have to do is adjust the types of jobs, it requires a more skilled worker, it’s really a matter of getting back to educating our work force so that they can take the jobs that in the long term pay them better money, give them better benefits, give them a better future and a more secure future.

GWEN IFILL: What do you see in the president’s economic plan that would address those issues of retraining and changing the kinds of industries that you’re dependent on?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, there’s two major things the president has done that are very, very important, and I think a lot of people miss it: number one the tax cuts. Here’s why that’s important. Businesses have no money to put capital into manufacturing or new employees or new equipment if they don’t have the cash on hand. You give capital back to a company, now they’ve got something to invest; they’ve got money to hire people. That’s the first thing.

The second thing, his intense effort to try to fight these frivolous and ridiculous lawsuits that are really making it very difficult for us to be competitive, that is so important, and I hope the Congress will join with the president, get behind that initiative. He has been out front on that, and if we can see a real effort, we’ve done tort reform in states like mine. A lot other states are doing tort reform. But we need a national initiative to help us get rid of these crazy and very costly and anti-business lawsuits.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Lingle, let’s talk about the tax issue. There’s been some discussion that the president might even be thinking of coming up with some sort of tax overhaul, not quite a flat tax, but some way of fundamentally restructuring the tax system. Is that something that you would be watching for?

GOV. LINDA LINGLE: Well, I think it’s important to understand that the tax cuts that he did make had a huge impact in a state like ours, because 80 percent of our businesses are small businesses, many are sole proprietorships, so they benefited immediately from that kind of a tax cut. And I think that’s why it worked so well in our state.

GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. Did it disproportionately a benefit the wealthy, and others that have benefited from the wealthy’s benefits?

GOV. LINDA LINGLE: No, in fact, a statistic I’m very proud of is we have the third largest decline in poverty of any state in the nation over the past year, and that’s equally important.

So, no, I don’t think it’s helping the wealthy, it’s helping people who are creating jobs, and I think that’s the important message is that when those tax cuts came in, it meant that a sole proprietor had more money now they could spend on other things, such as benefits for their workers or hiring additional workers.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman English, Gov. Lingle just mentioned the poverty numbers, and, as you know, there were some new reports last week that showed the number of insured skyrocketing, 1.3 more million people in poverty. That’s a pretty, how does the president dig him set of out of that hole?

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: I think by pointing out the fact that the increase in the proportion of uninsured is directly related to having gone through a recession, and as we come out of the recession we have an opportunity to close some of those gaps. Here again I think the president has a better message on health care reform than his rival. I think that a national health care system would be counterproductive and I don’t think would sell very well in the end.

I believe that the president is exactly where he needs to be, he needs to be promoting economic growth because that is not going to trickle down, but is going to spread around communities like ours. In a community where you have small manufacturers, a lot of the beneficiaries of the tax cuts are not only companies that are investing back into jobs, but also those that are closely held and privately owned.

GWEN IFILL: I’m going to ask brief of you to put your speech writer hat on. If you were asked to contribute to the president’s speech on Thursday night, what is it you would like to hear him talk about?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: I think what he’s going to do Thursday night is bat cleanup. We’ve had a lot of guys that have gotten on base this week and will continue to. When he steps up to the plate Thursday night, look for him to knock it out of the park.

He’ll be talking about not only the consistency of his leadership, the character that gave that leadership, but also a clear vision for America. George Bush is a president, is an optimistic person who has hope for this country, his opponent has whined and given us the most pessimistic view of America. I think America has a great opportunity to see contrast between hope and pessimism.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Lingle.

GOV. LINDA LINGLE: I think the president will talk about some of the successes in keeping our nation secure since 9/11, and I don’t think you can underestimate the positive impact that that security has on the economy overall.

And I think he’ll also say in deference to states like the congressman’s of Pennsylvania, he’ll say that while we’ve had a lot of success, he’s not satisfied, and I think that’s an important message that while we’ve had a lot of things that have gone well, we can’t stop there, there’s much more that we need to do.

GWEN IFILL: And briefly, Congressman English.

REP. PHIL ENGLISH: Grow the economy and enforce the trade laws and recognize that there are neighbors in need in our communities.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman Bill English, Governor Linda Lingle, Governor Mike Huckabee, thank you very much for joining us.