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Political Wrap

December 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some analysis by Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. Congress has recessed. There is no stimulus package. Mr. Shields, why not?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s a couple of reasons, Jim, that are really significant. First of all, if you take the last two recessions the country has had, both coincidentally with a President Bush in the White House, 1991 and 2001, the profound differences in the American psyche in those two recessions in 1991 Americans were fearful that the country’s best days were behind it, that America was in a definite decline and that Japan was ascendant in the world.

That is not the case today – and, in fact, President Bush the first, did not act aggressively and responsively hurt him in the 1992 election. In 2001, American voters basically are very bullish, very upbeat about the future, very optimistic. There’s a sense that the American economy is a dominant economy in the world and we’ve just hit a rough patch. There isn’t that sense of urgency. I think that’s the first psychological, political factor that is so important.

The second one, Jim, is that there really wasn’t a cry for it in the country. Dick Gephardt, House Democratic leader, strangely enough was in New Hampshire last weekend, does that from time to time. But he was just really talking along bakeries and coffee shops, to people. Not a single person brought up the stimulus package to him. All they wanted to talk about was the war. And Bob Dole, the great Republican leader of the Senate once said there is no poor people’s political action committees, no unemployed people’s political action committee. Unemployed people don’t have much clout in Washington. They don’t buy tickets to soft money fund-raisers on either side of the aisle. They’re not heard that much.

JIM LEHRER: You agree, David, there wasn’t a push in the country for it so the politicians didn’t have to do anything?

DAVID BROOKS: There was no push in the country. On the merits it was a pretty bad bill. It was very hard to make the case it would actually stimulate the economy in time to get us out of the recession. But I think that was a sliver, those to things. This bill, which was a terrible bill died a political death and it died and Tom Daschle has his fingerprints on the knife. In order to get this passed both sides had to get something: The Republicans had to get some accelerated tax cuts. The Democrats had to get some spending on unemployment insurance. The Democrats and Tom Daschle want to run in 2002 and 2004 against the Bush tax cuts. You can’t run in 2002 against the Bush tax cuts if you vote to accelerate them in 2001. So somehow he had to get to “no.” He had to destroy this bill. He didn’t want his fingerprints on the tax cuts. All the maneuvering over the past few weeks, the cockamamie idea that two-thirds of the Democrats have to support anything that passed, that was all engineered to getting to no. Daschle did that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that this was Tom Daschle’s work?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Tom Daschle deserves credit, blame, depending where you sit. He is a formidable leader. We see that in the drumbeat, the organized drumbeat. My fax machine is just alive with Republican faxes telling me that tom is probably responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa and Judge Crater. There is nothing that easygoing, mild-mannered Tom Daschle isn’t responsible for. But I think there was a deal, there was a deal, Jim I don’t think David will disagree with this, when they went out to Chicago after– for the first time on airport security, the President flew out on Air Force One. The leadership was with him and they sketched out — he and the Democratic leaders sketched out what was to be the part of it. There were accelerated tax cuts for business, accelerated depreciation. There was to be more unemployment insurance. There was to be the $300 for everybody who hadn’t got it the first time around. And, you know, there was really–.

JIM LEHRER: Hadn’t got a tax cut.

MARK SHIELDS: Hadn’t got a tax cut. So there was a broad outline. And I think, if anything, two things happened: K Street got involved.

JIM LEHRER: Where the lobbyists live.

MARK SHIELDS: Business lobbyists, the corporate lobbyists in this country — the Gucci shoe crowd. They said this is our chance after September 11. We can sail through with every tax cut we ever had. And I think Bill Thomas, the able but abrasive chairman of the ways and means committee loaded it up in a fashion that made it impossible for Democrats in the Senate and Democrats in the Senate to look at the bill seriously.

JIM LEHRER: Guilty as charged, David?

DAVID BROOKS: You’re beating up on Bill Thomas so much Tom DeLay is going to get lonely. I disagree a little. I think the banality came at the beginning; the Republicans launched all those corporate favors. That was at the beginning; at the end of the process, the Bush people were afraid it wouldn’t pass because they were going to take the blame if the recession passed. They need that inoculation; we passed a stimulus bill. So at the end of the day, the Republicans were giving away, giving away, but there was never enough to give away.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s talk about Tom Daschle and beyond the context, you can’t talk beyond the context of the stimulus package but you heard what Mark said, I mean he really has become the villain of the conservatives and the Republicans. Does he deserve it?

DAVID BROOKS: He deserves their scorn because he is effective. The guy looks like Bambi, bites bike Jaws and he is just a very deceptively good politician. The Republicans point to this guy and say he’s blocking everything. He’s obstructionist is the word we’re taught to use, Republicans, Daschle and obstructionist. We had an agreement on ANWAR, the drilling in Alaska. The Democrats and Republicans got together, he scotched the deal. We had an agreement on terrorism insurance. He scotched the deal. He is a really bad guy. Then they point over to him and he’s doing his choirboy routine and none of it stick so far. Tom DeLay looks nasty when he is giving to the Salvation Army. Tom Daschle could commit murder and look like a saint. It hasn’t been politically effective.

JIM LEHRER: Speaker Hastert was on this program last night as was Tom Daschle. Speaker Hastert said it may not be all Daschle’s fault – that is –I don’t have the direct quote, that he was hamstrung by the liberals in the Senate certain things he has to do for them. Does that make sense to you?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t think so. I think the Democrats have made a pretty intelligent decision that the big issue over the next couple of years is these tax cuts that the Bush administration passed, because in their view there’s going to be a deficit in the next couple of years. Who knows where the economy is going to be and for the suburban voters who want a balanced budget, they will respond to the charge that the tax cuts were irresponsible. That’s the core issue that Daschle has been pushing through here to preserve the issue for the next two elections.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Obstructionist is the mildest thing.

JIM LEHRER: That was Vice President Cheney’s term. He used that on “Meet the Press” for Daschle.

MARK SHIELDS: Right. And David Brooks on the Lehrer NewsHour used the word obstructionist. But what is really revealing, President George W. Bush got elected on a pledge to change the tone in Washington. There is no question he redeemed that pledge on September 11. But now whether he’s powerless over the control of the apparatchiks in the White House and the Republican National Committee. Daschle Democrats, Frank Luntz, who’s a leading Republican pollster, said we have to personalize this with Daschle. That’s the memo he sent out to Republicans. We have to personalize it. Somehow he is the devil. And Rick Santorum–.

JIM LEHRER: Senator from Pennsylvania.

MARK SHIELDS: A notorious gift for hyperbole — called Daschle a rabid dog. Rush Limbaugh, who hasn’t been heard from recently, calls him el Diablo, the devil. Republicans are still fighting the last battle of Newt Gingrich trying to make Newt Gingrich out of Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle has become the leader of the opposition which Newt Gingrich did and fell to 18% favorable in the country which is pretty low. So they’re saying if they could do that to Daschle, it could really hurt the party. They can’t for a couple of reasons. One, Newt Gingrich on a regular basis said things that were so outrageous that people just said my gosh, this guy has taken leave of his senses like Susan Smith, the mother in South Carolina who tragically drove her own two children and drowned them. He said that’s product of a Democratic Congress was Gingrich’s explanation of it. And things like that. Tom Daschle reminds Republicans of George Mitchell. And Republicans to this day, a part of Republican dogma that George Mitchell, mild mannered, quiet softly spoken, terribly smart and terribly, terribly shrewd legislator sabotaged the first George Bush into breaking his no new tax pledge. So they’re saying Tom Daschle is going to try to do the same thing to George W. Bush and we have to get him first. I got to tell you, it is a fool’s errand.

JIM LEHRER: A fool’s errand?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. The idea of personalizing Tom Daschle as newt Gingrich is not going to work because fur a suburban voter in Morristown, New Jersey, you look at Daschle and say he is a pretty good guy. You didn’t look at newt Gingrich that way. And that is the problem the Republican Party has. Here’s a party trying to reach out to Hispanics, they’re trying to reach out to other groups, which is all very intelligent for the party. They’re losing the suburbs. Tom Daschle plays right to the suburbs, which is the Democratic growing strength.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Jeffords, the man who put Tom Daschle in that job by switching– becoming an independent, out of nowhere, it seemed, voted against the education bill. Education was the issue on which he was– special help for disabled in education, he ended up voting against the education bill. Why? What was that all about?

DAVID BROOKS: Daschle opens his speeches by saying I’ve been mowing Jim Jeffords lawn. Jim Jeffords is having a bad Christmas season. He quit the Republican Party to be an independent to vote with the Democrats for two reasons. He is supportive of the special education legislation. He wanted a lot of money, $200 billion put into that legislation — n this education bill he didn’t get it. The Democrats didn’t fight for it the way he wanted. The second thing is dairy price support is very important in New England. He wanted there to be this continuation of dairy price support program. It’s not dead but he hasn’t gotten it so far. He has come down and gotten two little lumps of coal for Christmas. He is a lonely guy these days. He is detested about it Republicans, not particularly liked by the Democrats. He is just wandering in between.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read that?

MARK SHIELDS: Democrats are enormously grateful to Jim Jeffords.

JIM LEHRER: As well they should be.

MARK SHIELDS: Pat Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee instead of Orrin Hatch of Utah. We go through Joe Biden of Delaware chairman of the Senate foreign relation instead of Jesse Helms of North Carolina because Jim Jeffords made the move. The education bill is a story unto itself and Jim Jeffords included. Jim, it’s wonderful to read Bill Bennett and the others ranting and screaming against any mandatory national testing. That was a creation of the devil by Bill Clinton and I heard Trent Lott, the Republican leader stand up when President Bush, who had made this centerpiece of his campaign and centerpiece of his administration say this is the most important education legislation in 35 years.

JIM LEHRER: We had Senator Kennedy and Congressman Boehner on this week on the program the night it was passed and the two of them talked in the most non-partisan way I have seen in a long time about this bill. They were both so proud of it. They knew exactly what was in it. They thought it was a major day for America. Very conservative Republican and a very liberal Democrat.

MARK SHIELDS: John Boehner to his credit saying he was for abolishing the Department of Education and now believes in the tradition of Lincoln and Eisenhower that it’s a federal responsibility.

JIM LEHRER: It is my responsibility to say good night and thank you to both of you.