JIM LEHRER: And to Brooks and Oliphant, David Brooks of the Weekly Standard and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Mark Shields and Paul Gigot are off tonight. David, how important was the tax cut vote in the House?
DAVID BROOKS: The thing that was important about it is that there was zero Republican defections. There were zero Senate Republican defections on the ergonomics vote. So what I think we saw was an incredibly united Republican Party and a somewhat disunited Democratic Party, which means that as this goes down the road, you've got Republicans not having to defend their own and go after the others -- Republicans feeling incredibly good - Democrats seemingly disoriented, a little demoralized. They should be having fun with this. They should make it Thurston Howell III on a yacht with a sign that says, "I need a tax cut" and really attack the thing on class war, class war grounds, but they're a little down in the dumps.
JIM LEHRER: Why are the democrats not having fun, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, not going too much in psychology here, this is not the same Democratic Party that made some progress in the congressional elections last year and however you want to describe the presidential election. The class warfare kinds of rhetoric that you heard from Al Gore are missing from most Democrats in this debate. They remind me a little bit of the Republicans 40 years ago, talking about the evils of national debt, the importance of frugality and fiscal responsibility, the kind of thing you used to hear from small town bankers lecturing at Chamber of Commerce breakfasts. Beneath it, however, though, the conservative Democrats I think in the House showed their strength last week. And while they came up...
JIM LEHRER: How? How did they do that?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I think they led the debate, Jim. And the focus here was on the arithmetic, of course, of Bush's budget, which remains controversial, but much more deeply, the conservative Democrats, particularly the Blue Dogs led by Charlie Stenholm of Texas, have advanced this proposition that paying down the national debt much further and faster than Bush wants to is an affirmative value worth pursuing and that its benefit, low interest rates, is really the best tonic for the economy.
JIM LEHRER: Most of the Blue Dogs stayed with the Democrats. There are only ten who defected and they were not -- some of them were... had been voting with the Republicans for some time.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, indeed. And, in fact, on the two key votes that were procedural, that could have sent this thing back to committee, the Democratic defections were only two in number, not ten.
JIM LEHRER: David, why did the President and the Republican leadership decide to go this particular route - in other words, get a vote real quick, not try to get as Gephardt said, Dick Gephardt, the minority leader, said yesterday, hey, if they waited a while and worked with us, they could have gotten 400 votes - I don't know if that's true.
DAVID BROOKS: They got what they wanted. They got a win. They didn't have lobbyists coming in to carve it up and they got what they wanted. Their strategy is clear to. To get the marginal rate reductions that Bush wants out of the House, then it will go over to the Senate and something incredibly complicated will come out of the Senate with triggers, with circuit breakers, you know, carburetors. It'll all come out. You'll get this incredibly messy bill; it'll go to conference where they reconcile it, and the Republicans think that what comes out of that conference between the House and the Senate will look like the House bill because Bush and the House will be for it. And then the choice will face the Senate moderates. Either you vote for this thing, you know, six months from now, or you vote for nothing. And they think at the end of the day the moderates will cave and vote for what Bush wants.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you say it is going to be complicated in the Senate. Explain the complications. What is different over there?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, a, it's 50-50, so they can't just railroad it through. Second, the procedures are totally different. So they're going to have the budget process involved in all that. This was just about the rates, not about anything else in the tax cut.
JIM LEHRER: Not about the estate tax, not about the marriage penalty, nothing of that.
DAVID BROOKS: Child benefits. The leadership just can't rule the Senate the way the leadership can rule the House. So you've already got the moderates with the triggers. You've got other people on the spending side, which are just going to be a million people wanting to spend more than Bush wants in this. The Bush administration is going to have to play whack a mole because all these things are going to be popping up.
JIM LEHRER: Play what? I'm sorry.
DAVID BROOKS: It's an arcade game where you have to hit the mole with a --
JIM LEHRER: I didn't know what that was. Go ahead.
DAVID BROOKS: It'll be an incredibly complicated bill that will be written by the moderates.
JIM LEHRER: Be written by the moderates?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not necessarily. We're going to find out --
JIM LEHRER: Define the moderates here. The moderates are moderate Republicans and they're moderate Democrats. And they've come together in a group of 11 or 12, right?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And they're the ones who want triggers.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, New England Republicans, southern Democrats.
TOM OLIPHANT: Though it is by no means clear at this point that they could command a majority in the Senate for that position. They have opposition to their left and to their right, and while they will influence this negotiating process that David was talking about, they are not going to run it.
JIM LEHRER: Can anything happen without them?
TOM OLIPHANT: No, in terms of that 51st magical vote, no. But we will see next Tuesday, as it is scheduled now, an early test of the sentiment in the Senate when there is an attempt to wall off the surpluses in Medicare, which would undo the arithmetic right off the bat in the Bush plan. There were 60 votes for it in the Senate-the last Senate. So if that were to advance this time, that's how this begins. I think you want to also watch a non-moderate Republican, a fairly conservative one, Chuck Grassley, who's the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who has already said he is going to fix some things that Bush didn't really attend to in this bill -- issues involving the middle class, issues involving retroactivity -- but keeping the total at what he calls 1.6 trillion dollars. That will require more adjustment in the plan. So that it's true that there are moderates in the center that operate as a kind of a fulcrum, but the leadership figures themselves are affecting this as well as the Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: The $1.6 trillion, we have to explain that's what passed the House, plus estate taxes and all the other....
TOM OLIPHANT: Actually it was a little less than a trillion.
JIM LEHRER: Right. It was less than a trillion. But in order to get $1.6 trillion, you have to add the other things in there et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
DAVID BROOKS: Everyone knew that.
JIM LEHRER: In a word and I won't hold you to this, just based on what happened yesterday in the House and your reading of the Senate, David, something similar to what the president wants going to actually happen?
DAVID BROOKS: I think that the debate is still largely unformed but the momentum that exists is in the president's favor simply because the Republicans are so unified, the Democrats have slightly more split.
TOM OLIPHANT: I think David is exactly right at this point, though with the additional proviso that I don't know what President Bush would call around a trillion or a little less, if it came to that. If he called that a victory, then....
JIM LEHRER: All right. The ergonomics repeal this was, well, as Kwame reported, a regulation that the Clinton administration put in in the last days and, boom, suddenly it is gone both in the House and Senate. One week it is gone. What happened? What is that all about?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it annoyed Republicans. It was a recess thing that annoyed them the way it was imposed on them. Second of all, for Republicans, the classic nanny state meddling where do you put your mouse pad next to your keyboard, how heavy can the tape dispenser be, so they were annoyed by that. I really think the important thing about the vote really reflects back on the tax debate which in the Senate, who were the defectors, the Democrats who joined the Republicans to get this passed - it was the who's who of southern Democrats, Breaux, Max Cleland, Holland from South Carolina, so you had what looked like a governing majority emerging on this incredibly traditional Republican versus Democrat labor versus business issue.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, of course, the regulations had never taken effect. And many people on the left criticized President Clinton for waiting as long as he did to implement something that had taken ten years of research to come up with. This, I think, is an example, Ralph Nader notwithstanding, of why it makes a difference who the president is. This is not something that could have happened with Gore. It will happen because Bush will sign it. But then something traditional politically happens. And that is the party on the outside, gets to saddle the party on the inside with the status quo. And you can defeat these regulations with the numbers that exist in Congress very easily. But then the American workplace becomes President Bush's, the status quo becomes his. And the opposition now has the repetitive stress injuries. We all know somebody who has been in terrible pain because of office... And the pressure that now comes from outside makes defending the status quo... It is interesting after the vote in the Senate that that the new Labor Secretary started talking about the importance of doing this voluntarily.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think this thing could backfire? There may be more here than just politics...
DAVID BROOKS: It could be. Whenever there's an issue like this, there are studies from each side, so labor has studies that cost $800 billion a year and business has studies $900 million and a normal person like me can't make any sense of it. But I think Breaux, one of the Democrats who voted with the Republicans, has said with Arlen Specter, a Republican who stayed firm, that they want some new, maybe more modest regulations.
JIM LEHRER: Quick question before we go, what impact, if any, has Vice President Cheney's partially blocked artery problem had on the Republican streamliner?
DAVID BROOKS: It hasn't had any, I mean, the guy is not a nervous type. I've never seen anybody so calm, so Zen-like. So he doesn't strike you as someone who arouses your worry about him. So I think he continues to work. He was at work today, sitting in the meetings. The confidence level is the same.
JIM LEHRER: Not a problem?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, a very carefully considered decision has been made not to release any more of his medical information.
JIM LEHRER: What is it that we don't know that we should know?
TOM OLIPHANT: The precise nature of the medication that he takes, the results and detail of stress EKG and other tests. The reasoning in the White House is that this is a press issue more than it's a public issue, and I happen to think they're right, by the way, and that if something like that were put out on the table for an official of his importance, all we would do is pick at it and, you know, what about this and how come you're taking baby aspirin instead of grown-up aspirin or something -- and that it is better to leave it like this, which means that everything is going to be okay as long as something serious doesn't happen.
JIM LEHRER: Well, some of the talk shows are already selecting who the replacement is going to be. That is just talk at this point.
DAVID BROOKS: That is talk. It is an issue of public service to me. Everyone says if you are sick, you should resign. People risk their lives on airplanes every day.
JIM LEHRER: How do you define what sick is? You know. Okay. Thank you both very much.