TOPICS > Politics

Congress Moves SCHIP Forward; GOP Debates Minority Issues

September 28, 2007 at 6:35 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Next, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, with Judy Woodruff in charge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, good to see you on this Friday evening.

David, it looks as if the president is going to veto this expansion of the children’s health program, named S-CHIP. Is there any chance that the people who support it can prevail here?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: No, he’s going to veto it. And it follows this long political train where Republicans have said in their chief conclusion about 2006 was, “We’ve lost our soul. We’ve lost our fiscal conservative soul, so we’ve got to start vetoing stuff.”

So the Democrats looked around — and primarily Rahm Emanuel looked around — and said, “What’s something we really want that is politically murderous for them to veto? We’ll hand them that. They can veto it if they want.”

And so for the Democrats, it’s great politics and it’s great policy. But Bush is going to stick with his guns, in part because they really do have to reestablish their fiscal conservative soul, and in part because they actually do believe it’s bad policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s that calculating, you’re saying?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, politics and politics interweave, and they’ve interwoven here. And the Republicans say basically it’s an early battle over a big health care debate, with Republicans saying we want to give tax credits to people so they can individually choose health care, the Democrats saying, no, that doesn’t work, we want more government involved in health care insurance. And this is like the little skirmish of what will follow.

The Democrats' take-away

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnnist
By the best of old American politics, I mean, this was a compromise. It was an authentic compromise between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats. They came up with a bipartisan plan which passed by lopsided majorities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What can the Democrats take away from this, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think there's two things, Judy. I mean, this is a collision, a classic collision between the best of old American politics and the worst of new American politics.

By the best of old American politics, I mean, this was a compromise. It was an authentic compromise between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats. They came up with a bipartisan plan which passed by lopsided majorities.

And the worst of new politics, which is, "I want an issue. I don't care about passing a bill. I don't care about making legislation or making policy. I want to have something that I can run as an ad or run against."

And the president has had a death-bed conversion here in the seventh year of his administration to fiscal responsibility. David's right; he's been criticized much for it. A little late in the ballgame.

The indebtedness of the country under George W. Bush, just his seven years, he has added more to the national debt, Judy, than we did -- in dollars -- than we did from the presidency of George Washington all the way through to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, through Ronald Reagan's presidency, I mean, through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Louisiana Purchase.

George Bush has put more red ink in the United States that we have to pay off, our children and grandchildren. So this $35 billion at this point seems a little bit of somebody spoiling for a fight to kind of regain his macho credentials.

DAVID BROOKS: It's a good bill. If I were a senator, I would vote for it.

MARK SHIELDS: I would, too.

DAVID BROOKS: But I would hold my nose while voting for it, because -- S-CHIP is a successful program. It insures kids. It's a successful program. Nonetheless, things that are wrong with our fiscal situation are in this bill.

In the first place, the funding suddenly disappears in 2012, so how are we going to pay for it? That's an issue that somebody should think about. In the second place, states have an incentive to expand their own benefits, which they define, because they can push the cost on taxpayers who live somewhere else. And that's typical of what we have in Washington, and it's part of why we have a fiscal mess.

And then, finally, I do object to the passing of non-smokers. They don't raise the tax on cigarettes...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cigarette tax.

DAVID BROOKS: ... yes, which is how we're going to pay for it in the short term. They don't raise the tax on gasoline. They don't raise the tax on wine. They pick poor, politically immobilized people, the weakest possible group you can imagine, and they throw it all on them. And that's just political cowardice, frankly.

MARK SHIELDS: Let me underline my agreement on David on that point. I mean, taxes ought to be based on the ability to pay. The smokers in this country have become the untouchables. I mean, you see them huddled on February days in doorsteps and entrance ways of buildings. People walk by, don't even look at them, don't even acknowledge them.

But I think, if that's consistent, then we ought to say, on Social Security, where there really is a problem of funding, we ought not to tax 100 percent of a school teacher, a truck driver, and a nurse on their Social Security, and only less than 1 percent on the baseball star or a movie star or an investment banker's $10 million income, which is that, again, on the ability to pay, ought to be extended.

Iraq and the Democratic hopefuls

David Brooks
New York Times
But in that debate, the big story was the fact that the big three candidates, Obama, Edwards, and Clinton, all refused to pledge that U.S. troops would be out of Iraq at the end of their first term, so really 10 years from the war began.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about another spending issue, an even bigger one, and that is Iraq war. Secretary Gates went to the Congress, said, we need $40-some billion more, a total of $190 billion. This week, Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader on the program, here last night said, "We're going to have to take a long, hard look at this."

David, is this something that the Democrats can get their way on in any respect?

DAVID BROOKS: I don't think so, no. They're not going to cut off funding, and we've seen and we saw in the debate this week, there are going to be probably U.S. troops in Iraq there 10 years, regardless who's elected. So they're not going to win on this.

One of the things that Gates has accomplished -- and Newsweek has a good piece online about that -- he's changed Bush's strategy a bit, even from what Petraeus wanted. He's caused the president or persuaded the president to pull back the number of troops, to continue the drawdown, because they think that's politically more sustainable into the next administration.

So they're asking for all this money, but I think Secretary Gates has persuaded people that there will be a quicker drawdown of U.S. troops than might otherwise have been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So will they get -- can the White House count on getting the money as they've gotten it for the last three years?

MARK SHIELDS: Probably. I think there's very little question about that politically, Judy.

I think there are two points about Secretary Gates' testimony that struck me. One, it's an acknowledgement that we've been forced, because of manpower demands, the Army is overstretched, it's underequipped, that we've accepted into the Army people who don't have high school diplomas, who have criminal records, who don't meet the intelligence test that is desirable. So that's going to be a long-term problem.

But the thing that bothered me the most, quite frankly, was that, four-and-a-half years into this war, we still don't have mine-resistant armored protection vehicles. And I have to say that, if those were the children of senators and CEOs serving there, we would have them. And the explanation was given on our show this week to Paul Solman by a Marine general that this country doesn't have the industrial base to provide this, is just unacceptable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the Democratic debate, David, and what we saw, and most of the Democrats are saying they are going to keep troops there one way or another.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Did that debate change anything, the dynamics, either on the Iraq debate or on the presidential debate?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think there were a couple of striking things. One, it's interesting how in the conventional wisdom Hillary has now gone from a good position to a dominating position. People regard her as an overwhelming frontrunner.

But in that debate, the big story was the fact that the big three candidates, Obama, Edwards, and Clinton, all refused to pledge that U.S. troops would be out of Iraq at the end of their first term, so really 10 years from the war began.

And I think a lot of people said they did that because they want to preserve their stability for the general election. I think they also wanted to preserve viability for the primary season. I think Democrats a lot want to get out entirely, but a lot of Democrats -- and I think even maybe a majority -- are very ambivalent about Iraq. They want us to pull back, for sure, but do they want to completely get out regardless of the circumstance? I think you would hurt yourself in a Democratic primary if you said that, and you'd kill yourself in a general election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the Democratic dynamics right now?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the idea that Hillary Clinton or anybody else has the nomination sewed up is silly. There hasn't been a single vote cast. She's done very well in the debates. She's competent. She's knowledgeable. She's articulate. She's confident. She speaks in complete paragraphs, which we haven't had a president do that for seven years. And I think, you know, all of those things work to her advantage.

But I think she had a misstep this week. I really do. It's interesting, Judy, what changes the dynamic of a race is not a Social Security plan or an income tax plan, it's the little things. It's Senator Muskie in the snow and having been emotional in Maine and New Hampshire in 1972. It's George Romney saying he was brainwashed.

I thought, when Tim Russert asked her in a World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees, who would you root for? She said -- she gave a Clintonian answer, which is what critics would call it. She said, "Now, I'll have to alternate."

Now, any Democrat in the country, in a choice between the lovable underdog Cubs, who have not been in the World Series since 1945, haven't won since 1907, against the corporate, deep-pocketed New York Yankees, who have had 26 World Series and 39 league championships, it's easy. Do you root for Exxon, as well? I mean, it's just absolutely indefensible. And I think it's going to come back and bite her.

The Republican debate

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, let's talk about another debate, this one the Republicans. This was last night. All four front-running candidates in the Republican Party said that scheduling conflicts kept them from this event, which was held at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore. They came under fire from some of the contenders who were there and from radio talk show host Tom Joyner during his introduction.

Here's an excerpt of the debate, which was broadcast live on PBS.

TOM JOYNER, Talk Radio Host: And let me take a moment right here and now to say hello to those of you viewing from home, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator Fred Thompson.

Well, you know, I had to call them out.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: Frankly, I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed for our party, and I'm embarrassed for those who did not come, because there's long been a divide in this country, and it doesn't get better when we don't show up.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: I apologize for the candidates that aren't here. I think this is a disgrace that they're not here. I think it's a disgrace for our country; I think it's bad for our party; and I don't think it's good for our future.

You know, you grow political parties by expanding your base, by reaching out to people, and getting more people. What they're doing is sending the message of narrowing the base, and that's not the right way to go. It's not good for the Republican Party; it's not good for the country.

ALAN KEYES (R), Former U.N. Ambassador: I wouldn't want to seem to be the fellow who's going to speak up in defense of our absent colleagues here, but I think it is a little unfair to assume that they didn't show up tonight because they were sending a message of some negative kind to the black community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Our own Ray Suarez, by the way, was one of the questioners.

No-shows hurt the party

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
What voters, independent, moderate voters, swing voters are often looking for are signals on a presidential candidate. Is this presidential candidate open-minded? Is this presidential candidate able to talk to all Americans?

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, did the no-shows hurt themselves by not being there?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Alan Keyes is remarkable. You can never sense what you think he's going to say. I would say it was insane what they did. I mean, they had their reasons. They had to do some fundraising. They weren't going to get any votes from this audience. They didn't like some of the hosts because they thought they were partisan.

But it was basically insane, in part because they offend minority community, but even more and more immediately, they offend a lot of white voters who don't want to be members of an all-white party. And there are a lot of young voters, and a lot of suburban voters, there are a lot of Republican voters who are bothered by this.

And this is something Bush actually understand, Karl Rove understood, Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National Committee understood, but the current crop seems not to understand. And it's a stain. I don't care how much money they raised last night, it wasn't worth it.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree basically with David. The debate got a lot more coverage by they're not showing up than it would if they'd all been there, quite frankly, and their absence was noted.

What voters, independent, moderate voters, swing voters are often looking for are signals on a presidential candidate. Is this presidential candidate open-minded? Is this presidential candidate able to talk to all Americans?

And that rather than campaigning to win 9 or 12 or 15 votes in the African-American community sends a signal, just as George W. Bush did send one in 2000, just as other Republicans, Jerry Ford, sent it, as well. It's a way of saying, "I am comfortable with who I am, and I'm comfortable talking to all Americans, even though they might not be on my side."

JUDY WOODRUFF: All four of the frontrunners stayed away. So are they all equally hurt or just it's the impression of the party?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that in the short term, there's probably limited costs, because they're all hurt, but the party is hurt. And it'll hurt the party. And it was a missed opportunity if one of the four had shown up, and that would have been great for that person.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the people who criticized them from inside the party, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. And we learned today that he is putting up on his Web site that he wants to raise $30 million, and he said, if he can raise that much money, then he's going to decide whether to jump into the race himself.

MARK SHIELDS: Let's hope he raises it. I mean, I think I speak for all of my brothers and sisters in the press corps, we want Newt in the race. Welcome, former Mr. Speaker.

You know, Newt Gingrich is always a figure of great interest. He's smart; he's controversial. Wherever he goes, it's always a fascinating story. And you're right. He did speak strongly, as did Jack Kemp, against those Republicans who did not show up at Morgan State.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another candidate, maybe?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I'd pay $30 million for some of them not to run. And I'd pay $30 million, assuming I had the money, for him to run, in part because he understands what bad shape the Republican Party is in.

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, he does.

DAVID BROOKS: There was a poll that came out, Republican support is plummeting over the past 10 years. And he understands that, and he understands it has to change. The rest are really grasping on the old verities and offering very little new. But Gingrich, whatever his failings, would offer something new. He'd be the most interesting person in the race. The conventional view is Thompson's in, there's no space for him. That's absurd. There's space for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mark and David always bring something new to the table. Thank you, both.