APRIL 10, 1996
The AFL-CIO has, among other things, targeted for defeat many of the 73 freshman Republican House members elected two years ago and will spend $35 million to get it done. That has drawn angry exchanges of fire between Republican and Labor leaders. In a speech today in Colorado Springs, for instance, Speaker Gingrich labeled the labor effort "un-American."
JIM LEHRER: Now the debate about organized labor's plans for the November elections. We have our own exchange now between the House Majority Whip Congressman Tom Delay of Texas and Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and chairman of the AFL-CIO Political Action Committee. Mr. McEntee, is what you're doing un-American?
GERALD McENTEE, Chair, AFL-CIO Political Action Committee: Well, I was born here. I don't think it's un-American. What we're trying to do is get as much information to working America, to union members and non-union members alike, about what has happened in this session of the Congress in 1995, in 1996. The attacks that have been made on working people and what they've been able to achieve over the years, the attacks of health and safety in the work place, the attacks that have been made on their pension contributions and the utilization of that money by corporations, the reductions in Medicare, in Medicaid, education in terms of their children, trading money to get new jobs. There's a lot of economic anxiety out there across the country and we want to, we want to be able to bring information to educate American workers about the record of the members of Congress.
JIM LEHRER: And how are you going to go about doing that? What's this money going to be spent doing?
MR. McENTEE: Well, not--you know, I think it's important to note that not one dime will go to a particular candidate, nor to a particular party. We're going to go out and try and get people registered to vote. We're going to try and get people out to vote, and then we're going to run some television ads and some radio ads, and we'll get pamphlets and information out to working America about the records of the members of Congress. We'll sort of in a way copy what Ron Reed has done in terms of--Ralph Reed has done in terms of the Christian Right, bring information, bring education to the people out there, and then they'll vote any way they wish.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Delay, what's wrong with that?
REP. TOM DELAY, House Majority Whip: (Houston) Well, if he would take a lesson from Ralph Reed, no one would have any problem, but--and what he's done--Mr. McEntee says is--sounds benign. But if you look at what they're actually doing, they are compelling their own rank and file members through their union dues and through taxing them to support political activities that some of them, at least 40 percent of them, do not agree with. And they're doing it in such a way under the guise of education. Well, what they're doing is they're putting ads out there against 75 Republicans. Not one ad has been run against a Democrat to date, and they are misrepresenting what the Republicans are doing in Congress in, in very negative campaign ads. I mean, some of these ads are just outrageous.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Can you give me a--
REP. DELAY: And they mention the name of the Congressman in that particular district.
JIM LEHRER: Can you give me a for instance?
REP. DELAY: Sure. I can even read 'em to you. I've got some of them right here. One of them was a mailing that starts off with "Funeral services for"--the person it's mailed to--"will be held this afternoon at Community Cemetery. The deceased is survived by a loving family, devoted friends," and it goes through, talks about how the Republicans are cutting education, cutting Medicare, cutting Medicaid, and then it finishes with, "Vote labor. Your life depends upon it." During a radio ad they talked about, uh,--and I won't give you the whole ad--but just one quote from it--the announcer says, "That's right, you, ma'am. You can have what's in the box if you know which Georgia congressman voted for a bill that would rob senior citizens of their Social Security." Nathan Deal did that?--a Congressman from Georgia. And then they talk about that--
JIM LEHRER: And he's a Republican, right?
REP. DELAY: A Republican Congressman--
JIM LEHRER: Correct.
REP. DELAY: --from Georgia, and it goes on and on and on.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
REP. DELAY: This has been going on since last Summer.
JIM LEHRER: So you--
REP. DELAY: That's what we have a problem with. They are making their members pay for this kind of activity and it's not anywhere close to what the Christian Coalition is doing.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. McEntee.
MR. McENTEE: Well, first of all, it's, it's inaccurate to say that we're making our members pay for it. Every labor union in America gives each member the opportunity that if they do not agree with an ideological position and/or a political position of that particular union or the American labor movement, they can get that portion of their dues back that can be returned to them.
REP. DELAY: Oh, sure.
MR. McENTEE: So any member that wishes to do that can do that.
REP. DELAY: Well, Jim--
MR. McENTEE: So we're not forcing any member to participate in this who doesn't believe in it. And once again, it's an educational type of message.
JIM LEHRER: Let's stop right there.
MR. McENTEE: I don't know where the--
REP. DELAY: Jim--
MR. McENTEE: --Congressman--
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Delay, you challenge that?
REP. DELAY: Well, that's--what he has just stated is the Beck decision, a decision by the Supreme Court that would allow rank and file members to do that. But the unions fight every request for that to comply with the Beck decision. The rank and file member would have to go to court to make the union do that, and no rank and file member is going to do that.
MR. McENTEE: That's inaccurate.
JIM LEHRER: Is that--
MR. McENTEE: That's inaccurate.
REP. DELAY: That's happening all over the country.
MR. McENTEE: That's inaccurate.
REP. DELAY: It's happening all over the country.
MR. McENTEE: That's inaccurate. In our particular union, all they have to do is, uh, write a letter in to the union, and they get that portion of their dues back. It's all, it's all regulated. It's regulated by the federal government in terms of portions of money based on not only the Beck decision but also a decision called the Hudson decision.
JIM LEHRER: What about--
MR. McENTEE: And I don't know what they're afraid of in terms of the truth.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Congressman's point that 40 percent of union members disagree with the basic position that organized labor--that the AFL-CIO is taking against the Republican Congress?
MR. McENTEE: I think that's probably based upon the belief that 40 percent of our members are registered as Republicans. First of all, I believe that regardless of registration today, people vote Republican, they vote Democrat, or they vote independent, but all we are doing is providing the facts, providing the truth, providing education to the people, whether it be cuts in OSHA, the reduction in Medicare or Medicaid, we don't control any votes--
REP. DELAY: Well, there you are. The truth--
MR. McENTEE: --anymore. We're not able to do that. They have to make their own decisions which members are making each day.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman.
REP. DELAY: If it were the truth, we wouldn't have a problem. You just heard Mr. McEntee talk about cutting Medicare and, and where have we cut Medicare? We have not cut Medicare. We have reduced the rate of increase. In fact, we've reduced it less than Bill Clinton wanted to reduce it in his government-run health care plan. What is going on here is the Washington union bosses want to protect their Washington power, and they won't debate us on an intellectual level or even a truthful level. What they are doing is running these terribly negative campaigns out there, trying to scare the senior citizens, trying to scare people in America about something that isn't going on, rather than tell the truth; that they're trying to protect the status quo of business, of politics as usual, the old failed welfare state. That's what's going on here. They're trying to protect Washington powers.
JIM LEHRER: Is that what's going on?
MR. McENTEE: No. The Congressman knows, knows well that you can't put ads on television unless there are truth to those ads. And what we have done in terms of--and I use the word reduction in Medicare and reduction in Medicaid--unfortunately, these reductions were so harsh and draconian that the people did react to the ads when they got that information.
REP. DELAY: Now, you're--
MR. McENTEE: All we want to put is the information out there, television, or radio or whatever. All we want to do is talk about the issues, and what the Republican leadership is now doing is centering in in some way on this labor bosses, $35 million, their division from the membership, they don't represent the membership. I mean, we went through this 25 years ago. I mean, all we wanted to do--let's have a debate--
REP. DELAY: Is this a filibuster--
MR. McENTEE: --about the issues.
REP. DELAY: --or do I get to talk?
JIM LEHRER: All right.
MR. McENTEE: An intellectual debate about these issues.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman.
REP. DELAY: This sounds like a Democrat filibuster in the Senate. Let me--when you put on an ad that shows a senior citizen in tears because she is going to be kicked out of her nursing home, and that is an ad that is put on by the AFL-CIO, and they say that the Republicans are going to kick her out of the nursing home to pay for tax cuts for their rich friends, that is not exactly a positive educational process.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, I think we're not going to resolve all this, but you are going to continue these ads, right?
MR. McENTEE: Well, we certainly are. It's the truth. And we want to get the information to the people.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Delay, can you--do you and your Republican colleagues plan to do anything about it besides this?
REP. DELAY: Yes. We're going to the American people and tell 'em the truth; that the unions are wanting to protect their Washington power. They're saying no to the balanced budget. They're saying no to welfare reform. They're saying no to tax relief for American families. They're saying no to saving Medicare, and they want to continue the structure in Washington that allows them to have their chauffeured limousines and their vacation homes and their fancy offices.
JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, you can't stop Mr. McEntee from doing what he's doing, can you?
REP. DELAY: We can--
MR. McENTEE: It's legal.
REP. DELAY: --watch him very, very closely, and when he steps over the line, we will file charges against what they're doing as we have on three different occasions already in the just the last few weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Step over the line?
MR. McENTEE: Well, that's what he says, step over the line. I don't know about these charges. Nobody has stopped us. What we're pursuing is the American way, being truthful in bringing these facts to the American people. Let them be the judge. I don't know what they're afraid of, the leadership in the Republican Party.
REP. DELAY: We're not afraid. We would just like an honest, open debate between you wanting to protect Washington and, and we wanting to return power to American working families. That's--
MR. McENTEE: We're willing--
REP. DELAY: --all we want to do.
MR. McENTEE: I'm willing to debate you, Mr. Congressman, any place in this country at any time on what is best for working America. That's what we stand for.
REP. DELAY: Why don't you answer one question for me? Would you--
MR. McENTEE: I'd be glad to.
REP. DELAY: Would you as--in Washington--support or oppose a candidate that's supported by one of your locals?
MR. McENTEE: Say that again.
REP. DELAY: Would you oppose a Republican candidate that is supported by one of your locals?
MR. McENTEE: Our locals can make their own decisions in terms of who they support. I'd also like to correct--
REP. DELAY: But do you--
MR. McENTEE: I'd like to correct one--
REP. DELAY: Then you would oppose them--
MR. McENTEE: --statement that you made earlier.
REP. DELAY: --you would oppose their position then?
MR. McENTEE: Yes. Our locals make their own decisions.
REP. DELAY: But you go ahead and oppose their position.
MR. McENTEE: They can make their own decisions. But the one that you mentioned, we have an ad out on minimum wage today and also we are in some Democratic districts as well. I'd like to correct that.
JIM LEHRER: You know what? We're going to have both of you back.
MR. McENTEE: Please.
JIM LEHRER: We're going to continue this sometime.
MR. McENTEE: I'd love it.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Delay from Houston tonight, thank you very much. Mr. McEntee, thank you.
MR. McENTEE: Thank you.