TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks

May 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: Now some-end-of- the-week analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of “The Weekly Standard.” Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

Mark, give us your analysis, both in substance and politics of these tax cut proposals.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the Senate was the high drama there. There was no doubt in the House the Republicans had the votes to pass it, and George Voinovich of Ohio whom I praised on this broadcast just a few weeks ago turned out to be a tower of jello on this one.

George Voinovich, who kept telling reporters how reporters were coming up to him at home saying, George, way to go, don’t let them roll you, was rolled. The fig leaf that he hid behind was the promise of a reform commission on taxes. I don’t know how much sleep Karl Rove lost over that one — had to agonize before he gave into that. But in exchange, what Voinovich did do, he insisted on $350 billion limit, was simply to look the other way while the gimmicks of expiration dates that Kwame described so well, we are going to have a tax cut, we’re going to eliminate the tax on dividends and then it’s magically going to reappear four years from now. Well, that’s untrue.

The tax is not going to reappear nor, as the House did it with the tax cut on increase in the child tax credit and the removal of the marriage penalty. In the House bill, that’s supposed to return in two years, so they meet their… so what we got is this whole set, this Goldberg gadget hoax sham. I’ll say this — Arthur Andersen got into a lot of trouble for this bookkeeping in the private sector and it is pretense.

TERENCE SMITH: David, pretense.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. I haven’t seen so many sunset provisions since my honeymoon. I was going to talk about Voinovich and the commission. You might as well put tire tracks on his face. He just got rolled. And I think the lesson is now that Michael Jordan has left Washington, this is George W. Bush’s town. I did not think he could squeeze a dividend tax cut into an allegedly $350 billion tax package. He did it. He hammered. He hammered. He did not give away to Olympia Snowe and some of the moderate Republicans; he gave something to Ben Nelson, a Democrat, but he got it. It’s a win for him.

TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask you both. If the senators know it is a fraud, if you know it is a fraud and you know it is a fraud, who is being fooled here?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think anybody is really being fooled. I really don’t. I mean the people who want the tax cuts are going to get them. So they’re not going to blow the whistle on it. And you know, we can continue to do it. I agree with David. It was a political triumph for the president. I’m not sure… I mean the president… the advocates where it is going to produce 1.2 million jobs by the end of 2004. Terry, I looked at the White House’s statements last year and just a year ago they said the president’s first tax cut was going to produce 822,000 new jobs by the end of 2002. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, 500,000 jobs have been lost in the last three months. He has got all his eggs in this basket, George W. Bush has. I mean, this is his economic package, it’s his domestic policy, it’s everything. There really isn’t anything else other than the war on terrorism and tax cuts.

TERENCE SMITH: Could it rise up to bite him?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s possible. Listen, we have a problem in this world. We’ve got the European economies which are shrinking, the Japanese economies, we have got to do something to try to get the world economy rolling again. Spending is going on. We are spending 11 percent growth a year; that’s a lot of spending. Interest rates are where they are. Taxes is what the administration decided to do. I think in the Congress, the Republicans have decided this is a terrible package. Conservative writer David Frum said I never thought there could be a thing such as a bad tax cut but this one is testing my faith because it doesn’t look very positive, but they hope they can build in the conference with the House and create something….

TERENCE SMITH: That’s what I’m asking. Might it be changed, significantly, improved if I dare use the word, in conference with the House?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the conference with the House, I mean you got to bet on the House. They know their mind. Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is prickly and ornery but a hell of a legislator. And I think based upon the commitment made by Majority Leader Bill Frist, which Trent Lott and others were reminding him of, that he would only have a $350 billion coming out of conference in the way of a cut, puts the Senate in a lot of real straitjacket.

DAVID BROOKS: Let’s be fair. The economy is a huge thing. The tax cut is less than one percent. This doesn’t run the economy. The stock market is up 20 percent since the war. That may help. This is just something that’s saying we did something.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. If the democracy on display in Washington was less than noble, this week, what about that in Texas, where we had Texas Democrats voting with their feet right across the border to avoid a vote on redistricting in the legislature?

MARK SHIELDS: You know, I love Wisconsin, I love Minnesota, I love Oregon. They’re great progressive states, great reform states. But Texas is special. I mean Texas really is. It’s colorful. It’s flavorful, it’s irrepressible and this week it was outrageous.


MARK SHIELDS: You think the Democrats in Texas who are a dispirited, demoralized and thoroughly outvoted group were rejuvenated this week. They’re rejuvenated-first of all, they all banded together; they all showed up at the same spot, managed to do that on a Sunday night, snuck out of town on buses and went to Oklahoma to deprive the Republicans of the quorum they needed for one purpose and that was every ten years by the Constitution, we reapportion congressional seats based upon the population. That’s mandated. Every state does it once in ten years — and unless there’s a court challenge that sends it back — there was no court challenge in Texas. But Tom DeLay, the majority leader of the Republican House of Representatives and a Texan, an alum must of Texas wants the districts redrawn. The governor is lukewarm on the subject; the Republican speaker has been lukewarm on the subject and Delay, known as the hammer pushed it through. He pushed it and he has united the Democrats. I have never seen a group turn around like the Democrats have this week in Texas. I mean you can’t get them. They’re singing, they’re jumping up and down. They had a rally today on the statehouse steps.

DAVID BROOKS: You’re talking like Tom Delay introduced sin into the garden of evil – Eden. Listen, this is the kind of sleazy story that drew me to journalism because you have….

TERENCE SMITH: Makes you feel good.

DAVID BROOKS: You have a disgraceful redistricting plan where Democrats with 48 percent of the vote could win 70 percent of the seats. Now the Republicans have control and they say we’re going to create a plan just as disgraceful but on our side. They tried do this. The Democrats who were going to be outvoted say let’s get out of town. Let’s not let the democratic process work its way. Let’s get on buses. Instead of going to Vegas, where I would have gone, they go to Ardmore, Oklahoma, and they’re almost arrested because apparently it’s illegal for a Texas legislator not to show up, but they win.

TERENCE SMITH: They get past the deadline.

DAVID BROOKS: There is only one serious point here which is that some idiot in the Texas state troopers called homeland security and said we’re missing a plane. And it sounded to them in homeland security like there was a plane crash. In fact they were just looking for this legislator. I love the story. I just think it is fascinating but that’s a terrible thing.

MARK SHIELDS: Heavy handed. And this quite frankly, and Mr. Delay, to his credit, said he was going to bring in the U.S. Marshals, the FBI – I mean, this really started sounding as one of his Texas Democratic colleagues described it, J. Edgar Delay This was totally inappropriate. And the thing is you don’t reopen it now. I mean it’s already been agreed to. The districts are drawn. Now all of a sudden they want to reopen it which hasn’t been done, according to Congressional Reference Service, for better than a century, absent a court decision.

TERENCE SMITH: Although there are similar efforts in Colorado.

MARK SHIELDS: Colorado. There is a similar effort being made in Colorado.

TERENCE SMITH: Suggesting that if you have the political muscle, you do it.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask about another story. The “New York Times” struggled all this week with the revelations about one of their reporters, Jason Blair, on charges of plagiarism and fabrication. Just this evening the paper confirmed that it has received what it called suggestions and tips from inside and outside raising doubts about the work of self of its other reporters. I wonder what your reaction is.

DAVID BROOKS: My reaction that the “New York Times” is at once a great paper, our greatest paper. At the same time, it’s a weird paper. It is sometimes a very hard place to work for the people who work there, tough office politics, tough reactions outside to every story because it is the number one paper. And that it generates a lot of hatreds. And what could be happening here is that people are just trying to settle scores with each other, or we could be seeing a lot of reporters, who I doubt they did what Jayson Blair did, that’s amazing what he did, but could have been cheating, in which case I think that speaks to the management culture of the Times, which sometimes, as Howell Raines, the managing – the executive editor, said this week, sometimes run on the basis of fear. That’s not the best way to run an organization, necessarily.

MARK SHIELDS: I’d say first of all “New York Times” has the deserved esteem as the number one paper in the country and it reinforced that after September 11 with its absolutely splendid coverage of New York and the whole terrible episode. There is envy and enjoyment by competitive papers right now at the Times’ plight. We in the press are fascinated by the press more than is the public. And if you want a better example of it, the extensive public grief that the press extended when a couple of its colleagues were killed in Iraq as opposed to, you know, the military people who were killed. I mean that is a reflection of us.

Now the Times’ own four-page study last Sunday, was revealing. They put five reporters on it. They said this is serious. And when it turns out that 38 of the 73 stories that this young man filed were opened to charges of plagiarism, phony bylines, factual errors, I think you have a system. And I think the brass at the Times appears to have said, oh, this is all one man and his lies. And I have to say when 38 out of 73, people like Joyce Purnick and Jonathan Landman — the editors who sounded the alarm on this guy were ignored and overlooked, there was something seriously wrong at the Times.

TERENCE SMITH: Very, very briefly, what should the readers conclude?

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, when Jessica Lynch story came out, this guy Jayson Blair did a phony Jessica Lynch story. We learned this Sunday the people in her family knew it was filled with bogus stuff and they were asked why didn’t you call the Times? And they said we assumed it would be filled a certain amount of make believe. That’s a level of cynicism. That’s not quite earned but it is disturbing.

TERENCE SMITH: Very briefly, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s encouraging that they’re examining it, I really do. I think Jayson Blair is the aberration, the total aberration in journalism. Most people do try and get it straight whatever place they’re working.

TERENCE SMITH: That’s our examination for this week. Thank you both.