AUGUST 15, 1997
This week Paul Gigot, E.J. Dionne, and Andy Kohut discuss the budget deal, tax cuts, the UPS strike, and new-found American optimism over the direction of the country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, political analysis of the week. Mark Shields is on vacation, but Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot is here. Joining him tonight is Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, plus Andrew Kohut, executive director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which released a new poll today. It shows more Americans are satisfied with the countryís course than they have been in a long time. Andy, explain what you found, please.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
August 12, 1997:
The NewsHour analyzes the broad implications of the UPS strike.
August 11, 1997:
President Clinton used his line-item veto power to strike out three provisions of the balanced budget agreement.
August 5, 1997:
President Clinton signed a budget and tax cutting bill that promises to balance the federal books by 2002 and provide tax relief for many Americans.
February 11, 1997:
President Clinton has announced his intentions to create national standards to measure the country's educational system.
January 17, 1997:
Andrew Kohut discusses the nation's mood on Inauguration Day, 1997.
January 13, 1997:
A bipartisan commission has offered three alternatives for redesigning the Social Security system so it will be able to cover the retirement needs of Baby Boomers.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
ANDY KOHUT, Pew Research Center: Well, apparently, Americans have turned a psychological corner for much of the 1990's and even a good part of the late 1980's when we asked samples of the American public: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the conditions in the country? Fort the most part they said dissatisfied. Maybe 25 percent or 26 percent would be the average if we put all of those numbers together. Only in the days just after the Gulf War and for a very short time did a majority of Americans think the country was on the right course. But in our current survey we find 49 percent saying Iím satisfied with conditions in the larger world, not only with my world but the way things are going in the country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did they say why?
Americans feel good about the country, and are satisfied with the status quo.
ANDY KOHUT: Well, I think it reflects a couple of things: the conditions that people acknowledge. They see the stock market is up, at least up relative to where it was a few years ago, and they see unemployment down, but in this poll we found people also saying for the first time crime is not on the increase. The budget deficit is not on the increase. And in other surveys we found an easing of economic anxiety, personal economic anxiety. People were scared for a very long period of time through the 1990's, and that fear has gone down as news coverage of that economic news has gone down, kind of a strange thing to say coming out of that last report, but thatís been the reality of the past year or two.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do political opinions reflect these feelings?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, whatís happened in this poll is we see confidence in the course of the nation is up. Thereís a big vote of confidence in the political establishment. We see--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How about the President, for example?
ANDY KOHUT: The President, for example gets ratings that are nearly as high at 59 percent as Ronald Reaganís at a comparable point in time, which would have been in the summer or fall of 1985, when Reagan was getting 62 and Clinton is polling 59 now. We see when we ask people about members--the congressional representatives, we see the highest reelection figures that weíve ever seen--66 percent volunteering that members deserve reelection. And then one of the more surprising results in the poll is that for the first time in a decade the percentage of people saying that we need a third party has fallen into the 40's, rather than in the 50's. A year ago, I believe, it was 58 percent. Itís 47 percent currently. And all of these things are sort of coming together as people feel better about the country, and, therefore, feel more satisfied with the status quo.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Back on President Clinton just for a second, what do people say about what they think of him? Are they mentioning his policies?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, when we asked an open-ended question, what have you heard about President Clinton, we found a very different answer than six months ago. As many people in August mentioned scandal, Whitewater, Paula Jones, but unlike in our February survey, August we find as many people mentioning Bill Clinton in association with a policy initiative, mostly the budget legislation, but other things as well. So the public--the Presidentís image as able to get things done has improved by 21 points. To a certain extent many people still mistrust the President; 47 percent regard him trustworthy compared to 64 percent able to get things done.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what did polls show about what Congress and the President should focus on next?
Concern remains over education and Social Security.
ANDY KOHUT: The public says when confronted with a laundry list of issues the top two issues that come up are education, fix education and fix Social Security. And an interesting thing, Elizabeth, thereís a big generational difference here. Older people, people over 50 years of age, put their emphasis on fixing Social Security, younger people, people under 50, say fix education. Poverty is mentioned. Medicare, obviously, is mentioned, and race to a lesser extent than these two big issues of education the President has promised, and Social Security, which the country is very worried about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did the polls show that people appreciated recent congressional initiatives, like the budget?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, if we look at when we asked people to rate how important the budget has been, the passage of this has been, relative to other initiatives, it gets higher ratings than just about anything, with the exception of Kennedy-Kassebaum, which was higher than the tobacco deal, higher than the Family Leave Act, and certainly higher than the minimum wage. This--especially the tax cuts and the tax credits are things that people feel will help them. They still remain skeptical.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: 16 percent said they thought the budget would be balanced, is that right?
ANDY KOHUT: But thatís better than a month ago. 85 percent a month ago said the budget wonít be balanced in the year 2002. Itís down to 77 percent or 75 percent. So we have some measure of--still a long way to go. Itís a show-me attitude actually.
Americans are less interested in Washington politics.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Was the public interested in say the campaign finance hearings and other news out of Washington? Is it still important to them?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, what weíve been finding not only with regard to campaign finance hearings but most Washington policy stories, much less interest in 1997 than in 1996 and 1993 and Ď94 and Ď95. In fact, weíve seen a steady erosion over time in the percentage of people who say they paid some or a fair amount of attention to the Washington policy stories that we poll on, on a monthly basis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, letís talk about that, all of us, for a minute. Are you going to get another job, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: My mother always told me I should have got a real job.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why do you think this is happening? Whatís your analysis of this phenomenon, or less interest in what happens in Washington?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it is a little bit stressing, if youíre a political journalist, but if youíre a conservative, it may be reassuring. It reflects a country, I think, thatís reasonably content, as Andy said. 4.8 percent unemployment can cover an awful lot of Charlie Tries and John Huangs and Webster Hubbells and whatever goes wrong in the city.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Names in the campaign finance--
PAUL GIGOT: In the campaign finance--whatever goes wrong. But also other things have been happening. Look at welfare, which was a great controversy for a long time. Itís been a great success over the last year. As the President said this week, the debate over that billís over. The welfare rolls have declined enormously. Crime has been falling. I think the country seems to be happy with that, and also has a certain--still retains a certain skepticism about what the city can do about the remaining problems--education as a priority is fundamentally a state and local problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: E. J., what do you think about that, the role of Washington?
E. J. DIONNE, Washington Post: Well, Iíll go cover the Red Sox or the Orioles happily. I think that the--you know--I think the public has a perfectly rational response in that thereís a kind of exhaustion both in Washington and in the country after the last four years. In the Clinton--first two Clinton years--you had this horrible fight over health care that didnít reach the goal that Clinton set. Under the Republicans after they took over Congress, you had another horrible fight over their budget. They didnít reach the goal they set. Both of them--the voters essentially reduced both parties to little piles of rubble--the Democrats in Ď94, the Republicans in Ď96--they got a wake-up call. So now everybodyís cautious. The country says, okay, in Washington theyíre not fighting a lot. This budget gives us some tax cuts which we like. Itíll cover more kids--give health insurance to kids. They like that, and theyíre inclined to say, letís think about something else. And I think thatís a reasonable response.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, E. J., what about the polls showing that education and Social Security are high up on peopleís agendas? Are they likely to be higher up on the congressional agenda, when the members return in September?
E. J. DIONNE: The real problem, I think is each party figuring out what to do about those. I mean, I think education could be a great debate. I think the Republicans have something to say about vouchers and alternative ways of approaching education. The Democrats could talk a lot about inequalities between whatís spent on kids in wealthy areas and whatís not spent on kids in inner cities. And you could try to bring--I think thereís an opportunity to bring together those two sides and say, yes, we do need to spend more but we need to spend it in different ways. But there are huge obstacles to both of those things happening. The budget agreement doesnít leave a lot of money to be spent on education, and obviously there are a lot of people opposed to vouchers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about Social Security?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Andyís results are striking and theyíre striking because it suggests that what was and has been the third rail of American politics untouchable is beginning to be touchable. Enough people are worried about the status of Social Security so that they may beginning to entertain thoughts and politicians who have thoughts about fixing it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me interrupt just one minute. Are they willing to entertain it? Is that what the poll shows, do you think?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, the poll didnít pursue--this poll didnít pursue what theyíre willing to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It just said that was way up there.
ANDY KOHUT: But we did find much more willingness on the Medicare debate to do--to, for example, means-testing than actually occurred. The public was very reluctant to see the age of eligibility required, but we were surprised by how much give there was to public reaction to sort of means testing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Go ahead. Iím sorry to interrupt you.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it may be that the country here is a head of the politicians on the subject, who I donít think are going to do anything about Social Security anytime in the next year or two, probably. It may be that this is a sort of thing that gets debated in the 2,000 presidential campaign.
E. J. DIONNE: And I think the problem on Social Security, as Andy said, a lot of the people who name that issue are elderly people. They are less interested in reform to say privatize it or do something radical to it. They want to make sure their benefit is there. And if that is their main concern, which is a reasonable concern, then theyíre not going to look kindly to a Congress that might reduce what theyíre going to take out of it in the long run.
The UPS strike highlights common concerns over part-time work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And E. J., what about the UPS strike, do you think the President will continue to stay out of it?
E. J. DIONNE: I think he will. I think that the--what heís done is heís had his secretary of labor do something to bring them back to the table. But the President got a lot of support from the unions in 1996, the Democratic Party did. Heís about to start a fight with unions over free trade. He wants fast track authority to negotiate more free trade agreements. He is not, I think, going to step in and slap the unions in the face, as they would see it. And the other thing is this is a very popular strike. This is--I mean, this is, I think, one of the most important strikes weíve seen in ten or twenty years. It involves a new--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It is one of those issues you think is not being hyped, is that right, itís a big deal?
E. J. DIONNE: This is--yes, when people say itís a big deal, theyíre not hyping it because, you know, first of all, youíre dealing with a new part of the economy. Unions are seen as dealing with manufacturing, with the trades, the building trades. This is one of the growing parts of our economy, so it affects a lot of people. The central issue in the strike, which is, should companies take on more part-time workers, or should they give more people full-time jobs, most Americans are very concerned with the spread of part-time work. And most Americans have seen UPS workers out there working hard, so theyíre sympathetic figures on--you know, on their face from what they do. So that I think from the Democratsí point of view and the Presidentís point of view they donít want to intervene against labor in a situation where labor--at least in public opinion terms--is strong.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the Republicans point of view?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the Republicans generally would be--say hands off because we donít want the government to intervene in what is a private collective bargaining effort. But you have the Republicans constituency being small business, for example, which is--sends an awful lot of packages through UPS. And theyíre being hurt by this and so youíre beginning to see some Republicans say letís intervene.
I agree with E. J. on the political clout of labor. Itís kind of a paradox. Laborís never been weaker in terms of its clout of the private economy. I mean, thereís only 10 percent of the workers that are really organized now; 35 percent 20 years ago. But theyíre probably as strong as theyíve been in 20 years in terms of political clout, and thatís in part I think a reaction to the Republican takeover of Congress, unions deciding weíre going to suddenly channel an awful lot of money into individual races, affect that, try to get Congress back, and then you have what I this is one of the most under-reported stories in Washington, which is the dance between Al Gore and the AFL-CIO, because heís trying to get that presidential nomination in the year 2000, and theyíre going back and forth on what E. J. talked about, the free trade issue, and he gives Ďem one; he takes one. He gives them one; he takes one. And I think this strike is one heís going to give Ďem because this is an issue--this is a strike in which the labor unions are trying to increase their power over the private economy thatís been dwindling away.
E. J. DIONNE: I think just to back up actually, something Paul said, a reason why labor--despite the fact that itís only 10 percent is gaining strength, is because the issues are laid out there, the issues that people care about are now much more the issues that organized labor is talking about. This question of part-time work, people are worried about pension benefits being reduced in the long run. There are a whole bunch of things that labor has started talking about where people are taking a second look at unions. And you canít say Iím afraid of big labor, which was the standard thing that was said, when labor isnít big anymore. So labor is now not threatening in the way it was to some people and seems to be allied where most people are on a lot of important issues.
PAUL GIGOT: Thereís a risk for labor here, though, if they go too far because if theyíre--if it is seen as damaging two different parts of the economy, I think that the pressure will grow for some kind of settlement, for presidential intervention.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much.