December 22, 2000
RAY SUAREZ: There will be 11 new Senators when the 107th Congress is
sworn in next month. For the first time in over 100 years, the Senate
will be evenly divided along party lines, with Vice President Dick Cheney
the tie-breaking vote. We're joined by four members of that freshman
class. Newcomers to the Senate but not to Capitol Hill, all once served
in the House of Representatives. Two Republicans, George Allen of Virginia,
an attorney and the former governor, and John Ensign of Nevada, a veterinarian
and casino operator; and two Democrats, Maria Cantwell of Washington,
a former Internet executive, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a veteran
state lawmaker who was in both the Michigan House and Senate.
SEN.-ELECT GEORGE ALLEN, (R) Virginia: I think it shows that President-elect Bush wants to surround himself with people of great experience and competence. In particular the two that were sect selected today, Governor Whitman and Senator Ashcroft, I think are outstanding picks. The administration of justice, as attorney general is very important; that there is a very credible, stable and fair way of administering justice. And I think that Senator Ashcroft, as you stated in the introduction, has experience as attorney general in the state, as a Governor and a Senator. Governor Whitman also has the practical experience of sometimes having to be shown the brunt of the federal government, the command and control from the central government approach to cleaning up the environment. And as a Governor, I think she has looked at practical solutions. And what I'd like to see done there, is we all share the desire of making sure we have clean water and clean air and clean land, but let's not just use political science. Let's use some actual science and some practical common sense approaches to improve our environment. So I think both these individuals are strong people in their own rights, and Governor Bush as President Bush is going to want to have some good, quality people who I think will have the confidence of the American people as we move forward whether it's in safety and administration of justice, whether it's in commerce or whether it's environmental matters, so that we are protecting the environment, but also taking into account the impact of a federal regulation on people and their property and their jobs.
RAY SUAREZ: Debbie Stabenow, it was a close election and closely divided Capitol Hill, is that reflected in the flavor of these picks as you look at them?
SEN.-ELECT DEBBIE STABENOW, (D) Michigan: I think that it is. And I would agree that these are experienced nominees and strong. I think there's a question about differences in philosophies that whether have to sort through. Frankly, the split in the country and in the United States Senate itself really is either an opportunity for us to reach across party lines to build consensus, to get things done, or to have stalemate. And I'm choosing to be a part of this centrist coalition that is coming together with members of both parties, to govern in the middle of. Last year as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, we passed a patient bill of rights and campaign finance reform and were ready to address the issue of prescription drugs and lowering the cost for our senior and modernizing Medicare all those things stopped in the United States Senate. We now can build on what was done last session and pass these things if we work across the aisle. I think one of the first tests will be how we continue the great economic prosperity of this country. I personally want to see us balance both paying down the debt, very aggressively focusing on paying down the debt, keeping interest rates low, and at the same time providing middle class tax cuts. And I think one of the first tests will be how we approach the question of the budget surplus and keeping this great economy going.
RAY SUAREZ: John Ensign, why don't you bounce off what your new colleague just said. Do you think a lot of the emphasis is going to be directed at the middle is now and that you can get some things done fairly quickly right after the session begins?
SEN. ELECT JOHN ENSIGN, (R) Nevada: Well, I think that any time have you a Senate that's divided 50-50, whatever you are going to accomplish, you are going to have to reach across the aisle to be able to accomplish that, whether we're talking about a patient bill of rights or prescription drug coverage or some tax cuts or doing something about Social Security, hopefully for the future. All of those issues are going to take people of principle being willing to reach across the aisle to each other, sit down and nobody is going to get everything that they want and you have to know that going in. So if you want to get something done, have you to be willing to compromise, and-- but at the same time, go forward with what will hopefully be better for the people of the United States. I think that the first couple of weeks since we've been elected and now that the presidential election is all behind us, I think that there's great optimism on both sides. During our orientation week, I had some great conversations with many of my new colleagues as well as some of the people that are back there. I mainly been trying to reach out to Democrats because if you can form relationships and people don't think have you horns on top of your head, then I think you have a better chance of getting something done. I think people are pretty optimistic that we can accomplish some things in this next Congress.
RAY SUAREZ: Maria Cantwell, let's talk about that optimism. First, do you share it?
SEN.-ELECT MARIA CANTWELL, (D) Washington: Well, I know there are a lot of political pundits who would say that the chances of us having bipartisan cooperation is not going to be a reality. I think there was a poll that I heard about today, too, that somewhere around 56% of the American public wasn't convinced that the Congress would be able to work together in a bipartisan way. But I think if you look at the history of the last Congress, there were probably in the Senate ten members from either side of the aisle that often worked together to try to get legislation passed. And I know that Senator Tom Daschle, our leader, is very committed to working in a bipartisan way in making sure that we make progress on the tough issues that Senator-elect Stabenow mentioned -- to make sure that we pay down our debt and get a prescription drug bill and move the economy forward. Those are the key issues that we will be focusing on.
RAY SUAREZ: Is your caucus ready to concede certain things to the Republicans on committee assignments, the number of members on each of those committees, how responsibilities get divvied up in the Senate?
SEN.-ELECT MARIA CANTWELL: Here in our state legislature we have had a 50-50 split. In fact the last session was. They had co-chairmen and a process in which the committees had joint representation. I know that Senator Daschle is trying to communicate with Senator Lott on how we can best represent the fact that the public has delivered a 50-50 split in the United States Senate. So we're looking forward to how we can work together successfully.
RAY SUAREZ: George Allen, three out of four of you beat incumbents to be with us tonight -- and not by a heck of a lot in some cases. Does that temper the attitude with which you come to the United States Senate?
SEN.-ELECT GEORGE ALLEN: I think that each of us, regardless whether it was a long race such as in Washington State with Maria, or others outside of the margins of recounts all come with ideas, we made promises to our constituents. And I think what we need to do is work together. I made promises about what ought to be done with the surplus such as protecting Social Security, investing in priorities of national defense, education, and law enforcement, and then making the federal tax code more fair and less burdensome, such as getting rid of the majority penalty tax and eliminating death taxes. So I think that regardless one is from Michigan or Nevada or Washington State or Georgia, it doesn't matter which state, I think we can find common ground. And you're talking about the committee assignments. I know I speak for everyone regardless of party. We wish they had all these committees figured out by now, because then we could hire staff appropriate for whatever committees we get assigned to. But I really do think there is a spirit and a difficult sire... A desire on the part of all of us to work for the people of our states, keep our promises. But in the meanwhile, while doing that, moving a proper positive agenda forward, to constructively improve the lives of the people of America. And I do see that will and desire. For example, Maria and I may not agree on a lot of issues, but I guarantee you I think we'll find a lot of common ground on how we need to embrace technology in this country, not just for communications and manufacturing but also in education and life sciences. And so those are areas where I think we can find some good leadership that we can provide to those who have been there for a while.
RAY SUAREZ: Debbie Stabenow, do you think that there is enough agreement on some key issues, some low-hanging fruit, if you will, that might go a long way toward reassuring the public that you can work together?
SEN. ELECT DEBBIE STABENOW: Well, there should be. For instance, on a patients' bill of rights putting doctors and nurses back in charge of our medical decisions, it passed the House of Representatives last year and failed in the United States Senate by only one vote. I'm replacing one of those members who voted against the patients' bill of rights. So we should have the votes in place in order to be able to pass a patients' bill of rights. Campaign finance reform failed on a very narrow margin. So we should be able to do that as well if the leadership is willing to take it up. I think there are issues like eliminating the marriage tax penalty which I helped to co-sponsor in the House of Representatives; it was a bipartisan bill. We should be able to do that and address other important issues related to education and tuition tax credits for college, which I think all of us support, allowing families to be able to deduct more of that college tuition so their children can go to school. So I think there are a number of different things. And if I might just add that when we come to the question of committees, what's most important is to have equal representation on the committees because we have an equal... equally divided Senate, and we all want to have the opportunity to bring those issues to our committees and to the Senate floor that our constituents are concerned about. I'm going to be there fighting for the middle class families of Michigan every day and want to have an equal opportunity on committees to make a difference. We in Michigan had a split House of Representatives a few years ago and it worked extremely well because the leadership came together, they actually had co-speakers as well as co-chairs of committees and equal committee assignments, so it can be done when people of goodwill come together, listen to what the people have said, and operate based on issues rather than partisanship.
RAY SUAREZ: John Ensign, before we go, let me get your comment on that last point. Do you think there is room for power sharing?
SEN. ELECT JOHN ENSIGN: Like I said before earlier in the show, that neither side is going to get everything they want, even in this committee assignments, but what we have to do is we have to be at the table with the right intentions. And we have to be willing to compromise. And I think that if we do that, we start this Congress with the right spirit. It is very important, with some of the issues that were mentioned, there is so much common ground. For instance on the Patient Bill of Rights, the Democrat bill and the Republican bill are 95% the same. It's just a question of working out the details. Nobody really wanted a Patient Bill of Rights last year. The Democrats didn't want it because they saw it as their way to increase power, and the Republicans, some people flat out just didn't want anything. So this year we had a different attitude. I think people coming together, whether it's talking about committee assignments and the ratio of the committees or whether it's talking about actually what's going to be in a particular bill, people are going to have to get along. They're going to have to be willing to give a little bit. I'm very optimistic that this can be a very exciting year for the Senate, the House and really for the country.
RAY SUAREZ: Maria Cantwell, an exciting year?
SEN.-ELECT MARIA CANTWELL: Definitely exciting year. Something I said on the night our election was finally declared is that, you know, we all run as Democrats or Republicans, but you govern as Americans. So I know that I'm looking forward to the challenge as is others in our caucus, Tom Daschle our leader, and others, to make sure the representation that the public has put out there in a 50-50 split really does result in the legislation that the American people care about and that those bubble up from the committee assignments all the way to the floor of the Senate and on to the President's desk.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator-elects, thank you all.