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Shields and Brooks

June 13, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Hot stuff there, Mark, what’s going on?

MARK SHIELDS: Hot stuff, Jim. A couple of things are going on. Senator Grassley’s right; there is a fundamental institutional difference here. In the House of Representatives, almost all of the representatives come from safe congressional district politically. They’re going to get reelected in November. The problem they face, the challenge is in a primary if you’re a Republican from the conservative side or if you’re a Democrat from the liberal side.

So what Republicans are, in this case in the House, [they] came up with a bill that is considerably to the right of the bill that passed the Senate. The Senate bill passed — it was just to cover these people for the excluded ten to twenty-six thousand, and then it would cost $3 1/2 billion, and it was paid for, it was offset with increases in customs fees.

The House Republicans went after this enormous bill, $82 billion and only $3.5 billion of it is covering the folks. They made a couple of serious mistakes. The first is that they raised it to $150,000 which includes members of Congress. So members of Congress voted themselves a child tax credit.

JIM LEHRER: If you have income of $150,000 or less, you qualify for the tax credit.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, exactly. And they also excluded those Americans in the Marine Corps and in the Army now under fire and in combat in Iraq, which had been included in the Senate bill. So I think the irony most of all was the White House endorsed the Senate bill early in the week, and then endorsed the House bill. It reminded me of that old southern politician who in the fight over prohibition said some of my friends are for prohibition, some of my friends are against it; I stand with my friends. If there is going to be compromise, it will have to be forced and forged by the White House.

JIM LEHRER: Where do you stand, David?

DAVID BROOKS: With my friends. I thought the whole process was feted; it was a swamp, but out of this swamp emerges, to me the best tax bill of the year. The House Republican tax bill is something I actually can believe in because what it does is it targets parents of kids. You know, we’ve got benefits going to millionaires in Boca Raton; they’re going to get Medicare benefits; we’ve got the investors in Boulder, Colorado, they’re getting a big tax cut, but the people who have been just cheated and squeezed by this economy are middle class parents with children who face this incredible housing crisis, incredible education and suddenly here’s a real tax cut for them.

The tax credit the House Republicans came up with gives them the real child care thousand dollar deduction not only until 2004, which is the current law, but straight through the decade, which they need. And then it extends it within a year or so margin to the people to the working poor. So these are the people who to me need it most. It took the tail end of this dog to get them some help but to me it got them help. And if Olympia Snow and Charles Grassley and all the people in the Senate are going to say, well, we can afford a big tax cut, we can afford $800 billion for Medicare but when it comes to $82 billion for parents with kids, then we’re fastidious about the deficit, well, that’s hypocritical.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s hypocritical, and do you think it is going to die because of the Senate or die because of what the House wants? What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: The conventional expectation is that it will die somewhere in conference because the Senate will not go above a certain amount of deficits.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: Which proves the point — I mean, the House was not on the level, I mean –

JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. David just said it’s the best bill he’s seen in his life.

MARK SHIELDS: David’s endorsement aside, Jim, they passed a bill — they killed it with kindness — they passed a bill, which they know the Senate first of all needs 60 votes because this does break the budget, all right, to pass this in the Senate, and they know that they don’t. But they had already gone on record and they’d come up with their 350 ceiling and Bill Frist had to fight and scramble and so did the White House. Finally Vice President Cheney broke the tie in the Senate to get the 350 – and so now you’re going to increase –

JIM LEHRER: On the original.

DAVID BROOKS: Fastidious when it comes to middle class parents – why does Olympia Snowe care – I mean, she is willing to go up to 350 but not up to a little more to help people who actually need it.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s concede that the two of you disagree very much on the wisdom of each one of these bills. And let’s say you both agree that it is going to die. All right. Now who gets the blame politically if that happens and explain it.

DAVID BROOKS: The Republicans feel they will not get blamed for the fact that the working….

JIM LEHRER: They’ll go with you?

DAVID BROOKS: They’ll say we had this thing and they’ll also say and this is their philosophical argument, which they’re clinging to a little too much for my taste, but they’re clinging to it: people who do not pay taxes should not get tax credit. They’re not saying this is not a tax cut; it’s a welfare program. That’s their theological argument, which they’re sticking to, and they’re reasonably confident they will not pay a political cost. I’m a little less confident. I’m reasonably confident that President Bush will not pay a political cost because he really has been on the side of the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: The Senate. How do you read the politics?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that the White House understands that the reason that they scrambles and encouraged the Senate to act was that they were going to pay a political cost, that this is the worst of all possible worlds if I’m a Republican in a tight race. I have voted to cut investors. I’ve voted to cut capital gains. I’ve voted to really comfort the comfortable. And now when it comes to comforting the afflicted, I mean, those working poor, we have just got a little bit – a nudge here, a wink there. Both sides have voted for it but we know it is not going to become law. Aren’t we smart?

JIM LEHRER: Okay, speaking of aren’t we smart, prescription drugs, I don’t know what that transition means.

DAVID BROOKS: Not much.

JIM LEHRER: It worked. Show how smart you are in explaining why now suddenly prescription drugs for Medicare, it seems like it is going to make it. Everybody is in favor of it and they’re working it out after four or five years now.

DAVID BROOKS: Six years really.

JIM LEHRER: Six years, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: I think the political class decided if you go to the people six years in a row and say we are going to pass this for you and you don’t pass it, you may begin to suffer a credibility problem. So eventually they are going to do it. And there was the emergence of several key figures. One is Bill Frist-you know, Senate Majority Leader — health care is very important to him. Second, group of moderates, Grassley, Baucus in the Senate, Olympia Snowe, John Breaux, and Democrats and Republicans saying we’re going to come up with a bill, and then some movement on the right and the left, Ted Kennedy on the left, and most importantly, President Bush on the right.

President Bush’s idea was we’ll give you the prescription drug benefit, we’re going to tie it to some reform by giving people an incentive to get into these private plans. He basically caved in on that. So now you have got not much real reform but you get the benefit with everybody sort of signing on except for on the left and the right. The people who opposed it — Trent Lott on the right, John Kerry on the left.

JIM LEHRER: Do you read that the same way?

MARK SHIELDS: I read it much the same way. I would say this, Jim. This is interesting. It is a victory for Democratic liberals if you think about it. Ten years ago when this was proposed, it was savaged in the Clinton years. I mean my God almighty, the pharmaceutical companies, this was absolutely erosion of the market system and everything — we’ll never again do anymore research and all the wonderful breakthrough drugs.

JIM LEHRER: Because this will lower the cost of drugs.

MARK SHIELDS: Lower the cost and all that money they pump into research and all the rest of it. Okay. David is absolutely right. George W. Bush made the commitment in the election of 2000 against Al Gore. Both he and — they neutralized the issue which had been a Democratic issue. Made it again in 2002. He wasn’t going to go into 2004 and have this being used against him and Republicans, and I think in that sense, the victory is this: What you have now is the principle. It’s like passing the federal minimum wage. It is not an ideal… if you pass the federal minimum wage, the principle of it, and it is $5 an hour even though you want $8, you can always come back and get the $8. I think that’s the advantage that liberals take. But David makes a good point. When Ted Kennedy endorsed it, it essentially signaled that this was going to pass, it was no longer an issue; it was going to be an accomplishment.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s a pseudo poisonous victory though. To me the only fact you need to know about domestic policy is that in 1960, 70 percent of the discretionary income of – 70 percent of federal spending went to discretionary programs: schools, welfare, the FBI, all that stuff. Now 70 percent goes to entitlements: Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. And what that does is that means these entitlement programs are squeezing out every other part of the budget. There is no money left over. And that’s the big story -

JIM LEHRER: And this will squeeze it even more.

DAVID BROOKS: Because this is a new and extremely expensive entitlement program. Squeeze it more, more transfer of wealth up to the seniors away from these working parents, which I’m emoting about today.

JIM LEHRER: Hillary Clinton’s book, Mark, the publication of it this week, what is your reaction to the reaction?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I now know what the word polarizing means in American politics. I have to say this is a woman who incites major inflammatory passions on both sides of the political divide — I mean mostly in the wings of each party. But all my conservative friends who are basically worshipful and admiring of the market and the free market and let the free market work….

JIM LEHRER: Get ready, David, get ready

MARK SHIELDS: Are frankly disappointed and angry and let down that this is a best seller. I mean, right off the president is saying, they’re saying what the hell, people are so damn stupid. Adam Smith must be turning over in his grave.

JIM LEHRER: Your reaction?

DAVID BROOKS: As a fellow Simon & Schuster author, I’m not so unhappy. It’s good for my publishing house.

JIM LEHRER: It will help you.

DAVID BROOKS: Politics is really local. But the question among the people buying it, the interesting question and I don’t have the answer — are they buying it because it’s Princess Diana, the woman who was put upon, or are they buying it for political reasons because they want to read about her health care ideas? I suspect there’s a little more Princess Diana, it’s a personal thing. And to me, I’m not polarized about the Clintons. I understand the shape of the universe is we must all pay attention to the Clintons forever and forever. But I sort of want to move on.

The frustrating thing about the book to me is that like many politicians, including Ronald Reagan, she is incapable of having an interesting insight or an original thought. All these people who have these positions where they could really see something and say something interesting are just incapable of thinking in that way and the person who has the high power and also can write interestingly like a Winston Churchill or Teddy Roosevelt is so rare. So the book is kind of frustrating because it is frankly a little dull.

JIM LEHRER: Have you read it?

MARK SHIELDS: I haven’t, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Are you going to?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s right behind the -

DAVID BROOKS: — the Spanish-English dictionary -

MARK SHIELDS: — Spanish-English dictionary or “The Franco I Knew.” No, I don’t know, Jim, I really don’t. I don’t plan to.

JIM LEHRER: Have you read it? You talk like you have you’ve read it.

DAVID BROOKS: I read parts; I stood in the bookstore for about an hour looking at it; I did not buy it.

JIM LEHRER: You went into the book store and picked it up and, what, skimmed it?

DAVID BROOKS: Simon & Schuster is now canceling my book contract but I have to tell the truth.

MARK SHIELDS: Does that sound like socialism to you?

DAVID BROOKS: Freeloading is not socialism.

JIM LEHRER: Quick word. David Brinkley died.

DAVID BROOKS: Another book. Everybody knows his TV career. To me he wrote a great book called “Washington at War.”

JIM LEHRER: I remember that.

DAVID BROOKS: Where he talks about Washington in World War II, a great fact just out of that book. When people went to see Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt light the Christmas tree, they set their Christmas shopping packages outside the White House and went in knowing that the packages would be there when they came out. That’s the sort of fact that he put in that book. It’s a great book and it talks about how the social fabric has changed since that time.

JIM LEHRER: Quick word, David.

MARK SHIELDS: Robert MacNeil last night, marvelous interview – he talked about how dominant Huntley-Brinkley were — 84 percent of the American sets at one convention would turn to Huntley-Brinkley. Two things happened, Jim: One, in a strange way he was eclipsed by Walter Cronkite who actually moved public opinion a lot more on Vietnam, and second as Robin pointed out last night, he became rather a cranky old man. It was kind of too bad; all he did was rail and rant against the income tax. This is a man that – you know, the country had been pretty good to him.

JIM LEHRER: I was very prejudiced about it because he was a good friend of mine and I knew him personally. I never worked with him professionally as others. But I admired him very much. Thank you both very much