TOPICS > Politics

Election ’02: Impact

November 6, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The election night parties are over, the victory and concession speeches made, and the spotlight shifts to Congress, now completely under Republican control.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: We’re ready to go to work. As I’ve said to others, let’s roll.

GWEN IFILL: At the capital this morning, Trent Lott, the Mississippi senator, now poised to regain the title of Majority Leader, predicted a drastic change of priorities.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: If you just looked at the things we didn’t get done we should have done this year, we will do a budget, and we will have a process that will allow us to consider tax policy and prescription drugs. We will do homeland security department, you know, one way or the other. We will take up pension reform to allow people more latitude in how they use their IRAs and how long they can keep their IRAs and 401K options. We will do welfare reform. We will take up probably some additional action in the education area. We still need to pass a defense authorization bill, an intelligence authorization bill.

GWEN IFILL: Disappointed Democrats, meanwhile, searched for any evidence of a silver lining.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, you know, Republicans and Democrats have been through nights like that in the past, and there are times when Republicans have been written off because they’ve taken such a beating in the polls, only to come back from the ashes, and grow stronger, and there’s no doubt in my mind, that’s exactly what’s going to happen here.

We’re not going away; we’re going to be fighting for the things we believe in. We’re going to fight for the issues, the priorities, the reasons we’re in the business, in the fight to begin with, and we’re going to keep doing that, regardless of whether we’re in the majority or the minority.

GWEN IFILL: White House officials said they hope to break through old log jams like winning approval for stalled judicial nominations.

ARI FLEISCHER: You will have your ultimate test every time a vote comes up on the floor of the House and Senate to judge whether or not the President’s agenda will be able to move forward. He certainly hopes that it will, and he’s going to work very hard to let it go forward.

GWEN IFILL: But the Democratic and Republican party chairmen in a joint election post mortem today made clear many fights remain. Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

TERRY McAULIFFE, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: As we look ahead to 2003, the question for President Bush is: What now? The President got what he asked for. Now he’ll have to produce. He’ll have to come up with an economic plan, something more than terrorism insurance and the firing of Harvey Pitt. No more blame game; no more nonsense about a dysfunctional Senate; this is his sputtering economy. He must take responsibility, no more politicking to discredit himself from the nation’s business.

Democrats intend to be fully engaged in these and other issues. We will continue the fight on behalf of the millions of Americans across this country who voted for us yesterday. We will continue the fight for job creation, economic growth, for a real prescription drug benefit that covers all seniors in this country and helps bring down costs for real pension reform and for sensible environmental protections and for investments in education and for strengthening, not prioritizing Social Security.

GWEN IFILL: Republican Marc Racicot.

MARC RACICOT, Chairman, Republican National Committee: We welcome the opportunity to get to work as early as possible and recognize that this affords the chance for us to prove our mettle to the American people. My expectation is that the agenda that will be addressed is the agenda left unfinished by the last Congress, and that will have to focus upon the fundamentalists to begin with, passing budgets, and making certain that our fiscal house is in order, and moving along to consider those other issues, which the President has addressed in the past and inventoried as his highest priority items for consideration: the economy and homeland security, obviously, I think provide the two main issues that are of critical import to the administration and to Congress.

GWEN IFILL: Congress returns to Washington for a lame duck session next week.

GWEN IFILL: The dramatic electoral shift on Capitol Hill could mean new legislation, new judges, new tax policy, and a new political landscape for 2004.

So what’s at stake? To help us answer that, we’re joined by Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, he’s also on the board of the American Conservatives Union; Elaine Kamarck, a former senior policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore, she was one of the founders of the Progressive Policy Institute and now teaches at the Kennedy School at Harvard; and Norman Ornstein, resident congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

So Norman, we just saw the laundry list of priorities which Trent Lott laid out. We saw the counter that the Democrats laid out. What happens immediately?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Well, we have a lame duck session that starts on the 12th. The first order of business is the 11 appropriations bills; there are 13 altogether that make up basically the discretionary spending of the government, that was supposed to have been done by October 1st, when the new fiscal year began, and they’re not yet done. They’ve got to do something with those very quickly.

It’s going to be chaos, though, Gwen, because we have first of all Dean Barkley, the new independent Senator, coming in; we’ll have 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, one independent named Jim Jeffords, who works with the Democrats, and one Dean Barkley, who hasn’t made up his mind yet.

Figuring out who’s going to be the Majority Leader, working with Democratic committee chairs in a short period of time, and then another change coming perhaps a week later, with the replacement in the Missouri race, so they’re probably going to have little appetite for an agenda that we know includes not just those appropriations but terrorism insurance and the President’s homeland security plan is the top priority.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s be clear that people understand what we mean by this lame duck session. What happened last night doesn’t precisely affect, except that it’s looming out there over whatever they decide to do during that very brief session in November.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: The new Congress for which most people were elected last night begins January 3rd. The old Congress continues. Usually they don’t come back. Now they’re scheduled to come back. And normally new members don’t take office until January 3rd, but we have an immediate replacement for the late Paul Wellstone and a very quick replacement for rather complicated reasons for Jean Carnahan in Missouri, so we’ll switch a Democrat for a Republican.

But they have a heavy agenda, but little taste for doing it now. Republicans don’t have much desire to act now when after January, they’ve got all the marbles and now they won’t, and Democrats are not going to let a lot of things go through if the President basically wants to get what he wants.

GWEN IFILL: Grover Norquist, what are the priorities?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, I think you’re going to see more tax reform particularly focused on the investor class. One of the challenges the Democrats have in this election was even though the stock market had fallen, they had no story to tell as to why it happened and zero story to tell about what they were going to do to fix it. So when Bush and the Republicans come forward, and want to expand IRAs and 401Ks and move towards expensing for a business investment, getting rid of the double taxation of dividend income, the Democrats are going to have to trot along behind because they’re in big trouble with a growing investor class of America that saw them with no answers to the problems that they see with a stalled stock market. So watch for lots of legislation to address the investor class.

Also, tort reform, not something that could move as long as you had a Democratic Senate, the President feels very strongly about tort reform; it’s got strong support in the House, and the new Judiciary Committee is made up with Republicans committed to tort reform, so tax reduction and reform, tort reform, and then judges that will also help on a whole host of issues.

GWEN IFILL: Elaine Kamarck, what do you see as the first priorities?

ELAINE KAMARCK: In the lame duck session or when they come back in January?

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about January.

ELAINE KAMARCK: Well, I think the first thing they’re going to do is they’re probably going to vote on the Department of Homeland Security. That for me was I think one of the saddest parts of election night last night. That was originally a Democratic idea pushed by Senator Lieberman, rejected by the White House for five or six months, and yet it got tied up in a bunch of issues that it should have never gotten tied up in, and so by the weekend before the election, the Department of Homeland Security was George Bush’s initiative and not a Democratic initiative. And I think that cost us particularly in Georgia. So I think they’ll probably move fairly quickly on that, and I think it was one of those places where the Democrats forgot what was most important to our party in the 1990s, which is, we win when we’re a party of ideas.

GWEN IFILL: Norman Ornstein, let’s talk some more about some of these issues — tax policy — the Bush administration would not only like to see the tax cuts that they instituted made permanent but they would also like to perhaps overhaul tax policy altogether.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: We have a major tax agenda; it includes making the Bush tax cut of 2001 permanent and that includes also permanent repeal of the estate tax. We have the investor credits that Grover talked about, which House Republicans had pushed. We know that the President has asked the Treasury Secretary to come up with a dramatic overhaul of the tax code, something probably more dramatic than we saw with Ronald Reagan, Bill Bradley, and Dick Gephardt together in 1986. It’s not quite clear what yet; it might be a national sales tax to replace the income tax or flat tax. That’s not going to happen in the next two years, but it’ll be a part of the debate.

We’ve got a lot of items left over that they talked about. Some of the Democrats had pushed like pension reform that the Republicans had now pledged to do, some like tort reform that really weren’t on the agenda, and maybe malpractice reform as a part of that; bankruptcy reform, which almost got done. We had welfare reform, which had to be reauthorized and wasn’t dealt with, the big energy bill, remember, that sat there for a long time, and remember that —

GWEN IFILL: And Trent Lott mentioned more than once today.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: And which is a top priority for him especially, and there’s a major health agenda that we have out there. Remember that almost every Republican running for election pledged to do a prescription drug benefit; they want to do a very different one than the Democrats, but now they can put their item — one that doesn’t use Medicare for the prescription drug benefit but private insurers on the agenda, and we’re going to have to deal with Medicaid, as well as perhaps insurance for everybody who doesn’t have it.

GWEN IFILL: Grover Norquist, something else the President talked about was a big applause line everywhere he went on the campaign was getting his judges approved; is that going to change now his judicial nominations and then inference what happens at the Supreme Court?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, certainly, what happened was the President sent a lot of judges to Capitol Hill and the Democratic Senate just refused to even allow votes in committee or allow votes on the floor. That lock that the hard left in the Democratic Party exercised on judges, that’s over. Those judges will come out of committee and they’ll be voted on the floor. What will happen is something very much like when Clinton sent judges; there will be one or two that the Democrats can find some excess somewhere, real or imagined, and take one or two people down, but a hundred will be made judges in the next year, which is what happened with Clinton’s judges; they got through – one or two stragglers would get stopped, but the President will now get his judges through.

GWEN IFILL: Elaine Kamarck, do you see anything happening on Social Security? Remember, the word privatization was banned from this campaign. Does that come back now?

ELAINE KAMARCK: I can’t imagine that they will bring it back. I mean, the Republican strategists were very wise to ban it; the Democrats tried their best. The ideas for investing part of Social Security in the private sector were difficult ideas to implement back in the late 90s, when we had huge budget surpluses to cover the transition costs. In the absence of those budget surpluses, these ideas really just don’t work anymore, so I suspect that you will not see this brought back in any serious fashion.

GWEN IFILL: Norman, let’s talk about the power of 60, which is to say even though the Democrats are doing better in the Senate — I mean Republicans are doing better in the Senate — clearly have a majority — their initiatives could still be stopped if they don’t have those 60 votes.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: And one of the dilemmas that Republicans have is there is the perception not only that they won big but now they’ve got the leaders of powers. And as Terry McAuliffe said and others will say and as frankly the Republicans said back when Bill Clinton came in, in 1992, with a Democratic House and Senate, you’ve got the power, now it’s up to you, don’t count on our votes.

And because you need 60 votes basically to make much happen in the Senate, anything sweeping, 40 can block things from happening, that’ll include some judges; it’ll include other pieces of legislation; you could delay them for substantial periods of time and in the process of doing it crowd other things off the agenda. Democrats have some clout here now; in some respects, frankly, Gwen, it may be a little bit greater.

In our earlier discussion when Mark and David were talking about the difficulty the Democrats had pulling their act together, because on things like the tax cuts they couldn’t bring along Max Cleland or Zell Miller or some of the other, more moderate members, now they don’t need the 51 that they needed then to try and get what they wanted done, they just need 40, and they will have 40 in many instances pulling them some to the left, but blocking things, which is a strategy that Republicans used very successfully in Bill Clinton’s first two years — bedeviled him on his budget for months; they didn’t give him a single vote to make anything happen, and then in the end of course on the health care plan.

GWEN IFILL: How big a problem is that when the Democrats say, okay, you want it, you’ve got it, figure it out?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, if the Democrats want to filibuster on welfare reform, let them; there are 19 of them up for election — re-election in 2004. I don’t think they want to stand in front of the American people and be against the President’s welfare reform. I don’t think they want to stand up against tax cuts as well. I don’t think they’re foolish enough to stand out and yell for gun control; some of the Democrats were patting themselves on the back that they’d shut up about all year — and then two weeks before the election they started screaming about stealing people’s hunting rifles and it hurt them, cost them a governorship in Maryland and other places.

So if they want to stand up and filibuster in support of gun control, against welfare reform, against tax reduction and for their trial lawyer financial backers, let them do so; two years from now they’ll do even worse in the Senate races.

GWEN IFILL: How about that, Elaine Kamarck, would they do worse in the Senate races if the Democrats decided to be intransigent?

ELAINE KAMARCK: You know, two years is a very, very long time in politics and one of the stories that have been I think under reported today is the pick up of some very, very important governorships. I’ve been in a lot of presidential campaigns — every presidential campaign for the last 20 years, and I’ll tell you that having the governorships in big states like Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, which the Democrats will have in 2004, is a very, very important thing for the future of the Democratic Party. So while it wasn’t a great night for the Democrats, the fact is it wasn’t as awful a night as I think some people have made it out to be during the day today.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. Speaking of 2004, there is a development, which the Associated Press reported late this afternoon that tomorrow Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House, will step aside and let someone else take his job. He was being touted as someone who might run in 2004. Does that change the landscape?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: We expected there would be a lot of shakeups after this election. It wasn’t clear what Dick Gephardt would do if he had been in a position to be Speaker. He’s not, obviously. Now we are going to see leadership changes in the House, fairly considerable ones, there were some already in the works on the Republican side with the retirement of Dick Armey as Tom DeLay moves up to be Majority Leader and obviously an even more key policy player.

Now we will see a contest probably between Nancy Pelosi of California and Martin Frost of Texas for the top Democratic leadership post. Probably Mrs. Pelosi starts out with a little bit of an advantage, and what we’ll see in the House is a more sharp ideological force, left pitted against right. It’s not clear — I think Tom Daschle will probably stay as Minority Leader. There is some churning going on here and what it suggests is we’re going to have serious partisan tensions. The President is going to try as he said today to change the tone but it’s going to be very hard to do that now.

GROVER NORQUIST: What happened when the Republicans captured the House again in 2002 with the new restricting lines means they will now hold this for ten years and that is what the Democrats are reacting to. Why would you want to stay in the House? The Republicans are going to own the House for ten years.

GWEN IFILL: Elaine, on Gephardt?

ELAINE KAMARCK: On Gephardt, I think that that was inevitable. I think as Norm said there was discussion about that before hand. But it is going to hopefully force the Democrats to think about this election and to think about the fact that they should have learned from the Clinton-Gore era that one thing that matters was having real alternatives — not right wing versus left wing kind of alternatives but new alternatives. I don’t think they did that in this election.I think they fell back into an insider, inside caucus mentality that tends to drive the Democrats on the Hill. And I think they’ve got to learn to get out of that and hopefully some of these races will bring out these problems.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. We’ll all wait and see. Thank you all very much.