|SHIELDS AND BROOKS|
November 22, 2002
Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the homeland security debate, the end of the 107th Congress and Al Gore's book tour.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, analysis from Shields and Brooks, and to Terence Smith.
TERENCE SMITH: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the "Weekly Standard." Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
David, the 107th Congress is now history for all intents and purposes. The Senate went out this week, the House today. As you look back on the two years, there is any theme to its pudding?
|Discussing the 107th Congress|
DAVID BROOKS: I guess I would say law and order is the theme if you look at the major bills that were passed into law: homeland security, corporate corruption, defense increase, even campaign finance, policing the way we raise money, port and airport security, a whole series of measures which create government authority, government more intrusion into our lives.
This was a Congress that began with compassionate conservatism and faith-based initiative. That was a long time ago. It ends in a world in which the Defense Department is going to be collecting data on everything we buy. That's an incredible transformation in the agenda. Nobody was elected to discuss this stuff. But law and order became the top issue abroad and at home and Congress has responded to that issue.
TERENCE SMITH: And I guess the big point of demarcation was September 11.
MARK SHIELDS: September 11 and what I would add to David's point, and I think he is right, we are seeing for the first time really big government conservatism in a strange way, is that the signature legislation of the President's pre-September 11 and even post, was the tax cut, $1.35 trillion, which was inhibited other spending, to the point where some of the initiatives passed, as David described, into security, and are essentially unfunded, and unfunded mandates one might even say. So I think the tax cut is the holy grail of this administration.
TERENCE SMITH: You talked about unfunded. In fact, only two of the thirteen appropriations bills were passed. So what is the significance of that in a real sense?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it means they continue funding at this year's levels, which is how big a problem that is depends on who you can. A lot of people in Congress, Democrats especially say it is a big problem. If you go to some agencies, they say we're having to cut back here and here, we have a hiring freeze, we can't afford the new computers we need to do this security thing. And you do find people saying it's a problem.
The White House, they seem a little less concerned; they say we have got some of this unspent emergency funding that we got last year on security. And we are going to use that to shuffle it around. But basically, what it means is the government is running at last year's levels, which is good if you're afraid of deficit ballooning because you've got sort of a flat spending. In any case, it is going to be resolved early in the next Congress.
|The homeland security bill|
TERENCE SMITH: Of course the homeland security bill was passed, a huge thing. You are arguing that it is in some ways unfunded.
MARK SHIELDS: It is unfunded. I mean, here we have the biggest department in the history of the government, and the biggest change certainly since the creation of the Defense Department after World II, and yet there is not a dime for stationery, for postage meters, even for chairs and desks. So I think we're kidding ourselves. I mean we don't have the money for-- we don't have the money for port security. We don't have the money to inspect containers. We don't have all sorts of things.
But what was fascinating to me, politically about the homeland security was that this was something that had been advocated by Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat from Connecticut, former Vice Presidential candidate, and for nine months, had been resisted by the administration. And the administration and the President in particular, embraced it in June in the midst of disclosures about lapses in intelligence, lapses in security that preceded 9/11. Remember Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent whose testimony was so astute. That was the day that the President embraced it, and not only embraced it, Phil Gramm, Senator from Texas, Republican, said 95 percent of what was in the bill is what the Democrats had originally written and requested but they put a poison pill in politically, which was that the President would be able to suspend certain bargaining rights and civil service protection for workers and then accused the Democrats for opposing that, being slaves to the trial lawyers and labor unions.
The President used it and the Republicans did quite effectively, as a political club. And I think the defeat of both Max Cleland, Democratic Senator from Georgia, Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Democrats attribute in large part to it their opposition to homeland security. So when the Congress came back and the President said I want it even Trent Lott, his own leader had resisted it, saluted and complied.
DAVID BROOKS: The Democrats did pick that fight. They thought it was a winner for them at the time defending the union things. The amazing thing about homeland security is that here we are creating this huge agency, homeland security agency, which does not include the two main bodies of government in charge of homeland security, the CIA and the FBI.
And the intelligence argument to be made about the Office of Homeland Security is that it is a receptacle, and it's a beginning and we are going to fudge our way through. I'm struck, though, by a lot of the commentary about it. I'm concerned about creating a big bureaucratic mess, which I think is totally possible, but there is so much doom and gloom, pessimistic commentary, that it's never going to work, never going to get it to mesh. But if you go back, and I hate to be Mr. Nostalgia, but if you go back to World War II, the sort of "can do" spirit, now we have a can't-do spirit about it. I don't know if we can do it but I'm struck by the mood of pessimism that surrounds the whole agency.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark, they did attach some Christmas Tree ornaments, however, to this bill.
MARK SHIELDS: This was fascinating quite frankly. In the middle of the night, there's always a great test of any legislation in Washington, who takes credit for it. Nobody would take credit for these provisions, provisions that were inserted in the homeland security, that gave breaks, freed liability from drug companies, for vaccines that alleged to cause autism in children, companies that move offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes, which had been prohibited under previous legislation from applying for federal contracts under the homeland security now will be eligible and just the sweetheart deals like this.
What emerged in this was not only the Democrats opposed it. Most Democrats did, but and the opposition leader, to this administration, and to K Street K Street is sort of the business Republican administration governing coalition. And they love these deals. Let's be very frank about it. I mean, they were the ones that wrote them. But the opposition leader is not Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi. It's John McCain. And John McCain is the man who is loathed and feared most by those on K Street and by many in the White House, in the administration because he alone commands the stature among voters and credibility among the press to spotlight these things.
And when John McCain stands up and says this is war profiteering as he did say, believe me, they not only fear him and loathe him, they know he is speaking the truth and he's reminding people as he said, my party received $20 million in drug company money during the campaign.
DAVID BROOKS: The difference between Teddy Roosevelt Republicanism and Calvin Coolidge Republicanism. Teddy Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt says you can't operate offshore, we have a war to support. You're shirking your duty.
MARK SHIELDS: Exactly.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark is scandalized. Are you?
DAVID BROOKS: I am. The defense of these people who operate offshore and still want federal contracts is that the business taxes are a mess. Well, the taxes may be a mess; there may be an incentive to avoid them but you don't shirk your country this way. I really think we should shame the CEO's who have done this, put their pictures up on big posters.
|What Congress did and didn't do|
TERENCE SMITH: One thing Congress didn't do as it went out today the House was extend the unemployment benefits that will run out for many people, eight hundred some odd thousand, on December 28th, and yet they did take time, Mark, to give themselves a little salary increase, $4,000 per member, for next year.
MARK SHIELDS: They did and for that, shame, shame. But I think if we're going to put responsibility for this, 830,000 American families will have no paycheck three days after Christmas, the responsibility has to go right to the Oval Office. I mean, the President of the United States is all powerful in this town right now.
I mentioned the fact that he could take homeland security, make it what Republicans had opposed, make it their defining characteristic issue. At the same time, he could get Trent Lott to agree to bring it up in the session. And at the same time he could get Republican conservatives in the House to agree to terrorism insurance. And he didn't raise a finger in this instance.
DAVID BROOKS: I would spread it around a little wider. There was a Senate bill, which was co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats.
MARK SHIELDS: -- Nickels did a terrific job -
DAVID BROOKS: Hillary Clinton. There was a House bill and there were differences between the bills. But at the end of the day, there was some thought the Senate would take the less generous House bill just to get some extension. But there was a dispute over language over Medicare funding whether doctors would have to get a pay cut, which I guess they do under some sort of Medicare funding. And to me, that's a scratch on the new car. You just buy the car. But for some reason, Tom Daschle decided not to accept that little provision and that contributed to the whole blow-up.
|The Gore book tour|
TERENCE SMITH: Let's save a word here, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: I dissent on that.
TERENCE SMITH: Let's save a word for the biggest media blitz I've seen in a long time this week, Al Gore. He came out and how did he do?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I thought Al Gore did fine. I thought Al Gore on Letterman was a lot more likable than the Al Gore that we saw in the 2000 campaign. I'll say this. Al Gore has become caricatured and pigeonholed by critics on both sides. What is intriguing to me is if Al Gore does run, there are not doubts really, even among his harshest critics about the mans intellect, his ideas, his ability to deal with concepts.
It's about his likeability, his personality. If he does run and does win the nomination, he will have established some chemistry, some likeability factor with the American voters. If he runs and doesn't get the nomination, whoever beats him will have beaten somewhat of a giant killer. He has a far bigger following among rank and file Democrats than he does among the leadership and the elites of the party.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you think, David?
DAVID BROOKS: I just thought it was interesting that he decided to reposition himself as a sincere person, that this is cleverly position himself, and now he says he is going to come out and be sincere and be spontaneous and we got this carefully choreographed media blitz on the spontaneity of Al Gore.
I actually think he is coming a little unhinged, to be honest, and I must be one of his harshest critics. I thought his attacks on the Bush administration, even the war on terror were over the top and way too vitriolic for the taste of most people and centrist voters. I thought the decision to support a health care approach, which was even to the left of what Hillary and Bill Clinton proposed several years ago, was brave, but I would say well not insane, but weird. And so I think he is taking daring positions which I give him credit for, politically suicidal practically I would say.
TERENCE SMITH: Thank you both very much.