August 6, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot access the politicals behind new bi-partisan patients' bill of rights legislation and the GOP's $792 billion tax cut plan.
MARGARET WARNER: And for that analysis, we turn to Shields and Gigot-- syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|A reborn patients' bill of rights?|
Mark, explain the politics of what happened here. I mean, a week ago any kind of patient's bill of rights bill in the House looked dead and buried.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, until 21 Republicans showed up having worked and collaborated with the enemy, namely the Democrats. And when you've only got a five-seat edge, as Speaker Hastert has, the loss of 21 is worse than a hemorrhage. It's like losing a limb. And you heard Congressman Norwood in his interview with Kwame acknowledge that he's been active in it. They've got a bill. So after yesterday, after the dramatic day-- vote on taxes,vote on appropriations until early in the morning -- at 2 o'clock in the morning, the Republican leadership is gathered and the speaker's office where, lo and behold, they come up with a bill, a bill that is still in formation. It's not to be written, but they got rival -- this is perhaps the one strong argument.
I'll give this to Paul, for citizen legislators. We now have in the Congress as a result of term limits imposed, self-imposed in the case of Tom Coburn, he's a doctor. And he's Speaker Hastert's guy in the fight. Charlie Norwood is a dentist from Georgia. It's his fight. Greg Ganske is another doctor. He's not on the speaker's side in this, but it is interesting and it is intriguing but there's no question the speaker now has pledged to have a vote in the fall and, Margaret, it all goes back to one thing: A movie called "As Good As It Gets" starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in which she does a brief screed against HMO's. They are the most -- according to Paul's paper's poll -- the most unpopular institution surveyed in the United States. By a five to one margin Americans don't like -- have a very negative versus very positive feelings against HMO's.
MARGARET WARNER: So, is that what is driving these Republican defectors -- dissidents?
PAUL GIGOT: A movie? I don't think so.
MARGARET WARNER: No, the unpopularity.
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think it is citizen legislators. I think it goes back to a decision that Newt Gingrich made in 1995, he said let's put some doctors on the Commerce Committee; we've got these doctors, let's put them on it. This is the revenge of the doctors. Doctors hate HMO's because HMO's are the agent of cost containment. Congress liked the idea of HMO's coming in and saying, costs are exploding. We subsidized medical care. We don't have a lot of constraints. Let's have HMO's, other people, constrain them. Now they come in and say, wait a minute; we don't like what's going on. And particularly doctors don't because HMO's do interfere with medical decisions. And you have got three very well placed Republicans who are medical doctors or dentists. Charlie Norwood is a dentist on the Commerce Committee. And they basically have rallied enough Republicans including three on the Ways and Means Committee, which is one of the most partisan committees. And I think it's going to take everything the leadership has to stop what will be passing a Democratic bill.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I do. And I think one of the dirty little secrets of this whole town is that nobody on Capitol Hill has ever dealt with an HMO. They have on Capitol Hill the best care available, and if you don't like the doctor, you go to the next doctor and nobody ever says no. I'd like to have the House and the Senate under an HMO for six months and this legislation would be written in a week.
MARGARET WARNER: But then this - on the Senate side they passed a much more restrictive bill -- in other words, one that the President doesn't like and won't sign, so where are we headed here?
PAUL GIGOT: I think we're still probably headed for a bill. If something passes in the House along the lines of Dingell, John Dingell, the Democrat, and Norwood, it is going to be very hard for the Republican Senate to go to conference but very hard, I think, to resist some kind of bill particularly with the president beating up on them. The big difference though is lawsuits. The Republicans' bill in the Senate does not allow suits against HMO's and employers, the doctors. This is the other thing about the doctors. They're the deep pockets now on malpractice suits. They love the idea of spreading it to employers and insurers and HMO's. And that will be one of the fault lines in the debate.
MARGARET WARNER: So you think, too, that a patient's bill of rights bill could get to the President's desk, one that he might be willing to sign?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's a terrible situation for the speaker to be in. He's pledged to a vote with the House -- very potentially being out of his control, with a Democratic and a rump Republican group taking over this issue. If that's the case and they pass it in the House, I don't think the Senate -- I think it can build up some momentum. I mean, Trent Lott makes the case and his supporters say, hey, we stopped it in the Senate. I guess them can't do it in the House. So, there's a little bit of intramural Republican tention on this issue.
Tax cut legislation: headed towards a veto?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now the tax cut bill. Tell me what you think is going to happen there. The Republicans say they're going to home over the recess and drum up all this support. Do they really think they can do this, that they can create enough pressure?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think they think they can put enough pressure on Bill Clinton. I think he's determined. They think he's determined. I've been the optimist the last couple of weeks here of thinking there could be a compromise particularly because of Democratic support in the Senate but Trent Lott went up to the White House this week, met with the president for, I'm told, 90 minutes. The President even followed him out to the parking lot and the car but Lott came away saying, "He's not serious. He doesn't want to engage. He's adamant. He doesn't want a deal. He wants surrender. If that's the way he wants it we won't give him another bill to sign after he vetoes this one. We'll take the issue to the campaign and we'll make him look as if he's opposed to tax cuts."
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think is going to happen?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the Republicans are playing a losing hand in this one, Margaret. I don't think there's any question about it. Bill Clinton has come back again quoting the Wall Street Journal poll, I mean to the point where his greatest polarity both personally and professionally since that terrible last August when he had that appearance before the grand jury and the subject of admission to the American people. And he's back -- he's very much in the saddle. He's very much the dominant figure. The Republicans aren't going to change anything. If they thought they would change anything, they would have sent the bill to him.
MARGARET WARNER: Set up the confrontation now.
MARK SHIELDS: Set up the confrontation now and take it home and say look we're on one side, he's on the other. Now they're going to go home. This is a campaign document as passed. And when you pass a -- when you're the majority party and you pass a bill of this magnitude by one vote, it doesn't mean that you're serious about legislating. If they want to make a statement, that's fine. What is intriguing to me is how little traction tax cuts have as an issue. The Democrats were able to hold -- I mean voting for tax cuts is like voting for free ice cream and free beer and everything else. It is an easy vote, but the Democrats were able to hold 98 percent of the people against the tax cuts. Does that means the Democrats are profiles encouraging greater patriotic? Not necessarily. But it does mean that they don't think - even those that are worried - that this is a big issue that is going to come back and bite them.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, some of them do. Some of them would like it off the table. I mean a lot of Democrats would like to vote for a bill of some kind, particularly Bob Kerrey.
MARK SHIELDS: They weren't scared to yesterday.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, no, they didn't vote against that one. They voted against that one because they could say -- the senators could say well that's like the House bill. But some of them in the Senate do want to vote for a tax cut. And the president and Al Gore have endorsed $300 billion tax cuts. So they want to inoculate themselves on this issue. I don't think this is a freebie necessarily for Democrats. If Republicans can make this a debate between tax cuts and more government spending, I think they can win. If Democrats make this a debate between tax cuts and, say, more Medicare spending, then the Democrats have the better argument.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul is right. I mean quite frankly the Pew Research folks did a great question: 3 to 1 are you for a tax cut, or more government spending - 3 to 1 for a tax cut. Are you for spending more on Medicare, education, the environment, the patient's bill of rights, or for a tax cut -- 3 to 1 the other way.
MARGARET WARNER: It's all how it's framed in the election context.
PAUL GIGOT: The real debate here too is internal or Republican because Trent Lott thinks he doesn't want to go into negotiation with the President right now because he doesn't think he's serious, but Dennis Hastert, the speaker, and a lot of House members do. And they think they'd like to get some kind of achievement out of this. And their model is welfare reform from 1996. They sent three different bills to the President. Finally he signed one. Trent Lott thinks, wait a minute, it's going to be so watered down let's wait for President Bush to get us a decent tax cut.
|Hillary Clinton's Talk interview|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, before we go, let's talk about the most talked about political story this week, which is Hillary Clinton's interview with Talk Magazine about her husband's infidelities. What did you make of that, Mark, and do you think - how do you think it's going to cut politically for her?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, all I was reminded of, Margaret, was another rookie candidate in 1966 by the name of Ronald Reagan who was running for governor for the first time in California, rookie candidate. And they asked him about the John Birch Society and whether he would accept their support. It was an anti-Communist group. And Reagan had a two-sentence answer that he gave and didn't deviate from. "If they endorse me that's fine. That doesn't mean I endorse them." Hillary Clinton needs a two-sentence answer on her personal relationship. I thought what she gave didn't work at all. She thought she was doing it in a friendly venue. It didn't work. It kept the story -- instead of putting it away -- after Reagan gave the same answer 200 times people stopped asking him, and people would stop asking her.
MARGARET WARNER: Even the press stopped asking him.
MARK SHIELDS: We're slow learners but we do pick it up eventually.
PAUL GIGOT: He gave that answer to a lot of questions. (laughter)
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think that's the same, it kept it alive, rather than - that it was a mistake for her?
PAUL GIGOT: It sure seems like it. She was most sympathetic and most popular - which she was frankly in the role she hated -- the Tammy Wynette role as the woman wronged, as the victim, stoic, noble with some dignity. She's not as popular when she is trying to explain it away, seems to try to excuse the behavior or explain it in some way that isn't very credible with most people. And that's what she did in this case. The other problem is that the whole impeachment problem, it reminds people of all of that, that is the part of the psychodrama, the White House soap opera, all of that which is what they don't like and don't want to continue in the new administration. So that is something that hurts her, and I think potentially does hurt Al Gore and all Democrats as people are reminded of that again and again.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, she was pilloried for seeming or at least the account said she blamed her husband's infidelities somehow on his childhood. Her supporters say she never made that connection, the reporter did, and even the reporter said that wasn't true. Did the press go overboard here?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the press may have gone - but, again it comes back, Margaret, to her. She was controlling the situation. She had to give her answer. Her answer ought to be, when my husband and I got married it was for better or worse, I took it seriously. We are committed to the raising of our daughter whom we love dearly. We're committed to each other. I love my husband. There will be no other questions. And that ought to be it. And if you're asked about Vince Foster or anybody else, just say that's the statement and that's all you're going to get out of me and I'm running for the Senate from New York.
MARGARET WARNER: Because you don't get to footnote these things.
PAUL GIGOT: No, you sure don't. I agree with that strategy -- particularly since the Republicans look like they're going to get over some of their natural suicidal impulses and maybe even agree on a candidate in Rudy Guiliani, instead of having an internecine blood bath of a primary. That will make it tougher for Hillary Clinton.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.