February 7, 1997
The NewsHour's political analysts, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, review a week that saw the annual State of the Union address and the release of the President's proposed Fiscal Year 1998 budget. The two also discuss the re-introduced budget balance amendment and the weakened political power of Newt Gingrich.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now to our weekly political analysis with Shields & Gigot. Thatís syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Good evening. Mark, do you think a balanced budget amendment is in as much trouble as it seems from the piece that Kwame did?
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
February 6, 1997:
Office of Management and Budget Director, Franklin Raines, and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), debate President Clinton's budget proposal.
January 30, 1997:
The NewsHour historians look at the history of bipartisanship.
November 12, 1996:
Kwame Holman reports on the latest rounds of budget negotiations.
November 12, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the budget negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS).
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Budget
Browse past Shields and Gigot debates.
The Office of Management and Budget has placed President Clinton's FY 1998 Federal Budget request on the Internet.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes, I do, Elizabeth. I think itís in big trouble. Iíd say itís about 60/40 now that it will go down. And I think there are a number of reasons for it, some of which were in Kwameís piece, not the least of which the sense of urgency that was present four years ago when the deficit was $290 billion. I mean, Bill Clinton, whatever else heís done, has a record of legitimacy and credibility on the deficit issue that is unmatched of anybody, but since 1980 when Jimmy Carter was president and took down his budget, withdrew it, budget politics have dominated American politics--the American political debate. And I think this year youíre seeing both sides are more tentative; the atmosphere is less charged, and I donít think the votes are there for a constitutional amendment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think the votes are there, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I donít think theyíre there. I donít think theyíre there because to pass an amendment you need--the Republicans need Democratic votes, and I think the White House, Robert Rubin, the Treasury Secretary, and the Democrats in the Senate, in particular, maybe in the House too, they might have enough new votes, have decided that they donít want to pass this; they want to stick a defeat on Trent Lott in his first real significant vote as leader, and even some of the Democrats who voted--who supported this in their campaigns are going to probably use the excuse of the Social Security issue, which is really not real, to say we can--we can vote against this, so I think it will go down, yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: I would say, Paul, it isnít just the Democrats. The House Judiciary Committee has canceled twice the mark-up session on this legislation on the constitutional amendment because of Barney Frankís amendment which would exempt Social Security, take Social Security out, and four Republicans who are leaving on this issue that--this is very much a product thatís in part and parcel of the campaign of 1996. Republicans felt themselves scorched, scalded on issues, Medicare, and they donít want Social Security, which has been called in the past the third rail of American politics, that nobody wants to go near, and I think this is a point at which a number of Republicans get skittish, nervous, and maybe donít want to walk that plank.
PAUL GIGOT: Itís true about the Republicans, but the point I was trying to make was a substantive one about the fact that the balanced budget amendment, there are good reasons to oppose it. Robert Bork opposes it, for example, because he doesnít want courts meddling with fundamentally political decisions. My editorial page opposes it because we donít want--we donít think that ought to be the end--be all and end all of public policy as a balanced budget. There are other things that are more important, but the Social Security issue, to wave the bloody flag, that is just not realistic. Mark is right, that the Republicans, a lot of them, run for the tall grass when Democrats say it, but that doesnít mean itís a fair argument.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Letís move on to the budget presented by the President this week. What is your analysis of that budget? Was it daring, bold, or was it not, as the Republicans say it was?
MARK SHIELDS: I think what was most intriguing about it was what wasnít said. I mean, the Republicans didnít say it was dead on arrival; itís a negotiating, starting point. I think even Republicans, as intense and partisan as Phil Graham, Senator from Texas, has acknowledged that. I mean, no, 3/4--letís be blunt about it--3/4 of the deficit reduction is in the year 2001 and 2002, when President Clinton will be raising money for the presidential library, presumably, and I think the real dilemma for this is Fred Thompson, the Senator from Tennessee.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Itís really a dilemma for him.
MARK SHIELDS: For him. I mean, does he want to really run these hearings, get elected President on those hearings and then have to face the years 2001 and 2 cutting all those deficits in the first two years of his presidency, but no--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Itís very early to make a prediction.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think you see more than anything else, is the two parties really need deficit reduction, the Republicans because supply-siders find it very hard to make an argument to cut taxes when that deficitís there, the liberals because as long as the deficit remains there, their plans, dreams, schemes, whatever you want to call Ďem, are tough to finance, and I think that it is almost an imperative on both sides to do that deficit reduction.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The heat is out of the issues somewhat, even though there have been some fairly strong criticisms from Republicans. They havenít said it was dead on arrival, itís true.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, some of the toughest criticism came from the Washington Post, called the budget illusory. David Broder, the columnist, really took a real couple of shots at it for putting off everything until the Al Gore administration. But I think thereís no questions the Republicans feel that they canít appear to be too mean, too nasty, too critical. They canít appear to be just negative. So thereís an odd sort of reversal--thatís taken place--or usually politicians will get up and make a real partisan thatís a terrible budget, and itís terrible, and in private they say, well, it has some good things in it. This time the Republicans in private will tell you itís terrible, go after it, itís bad; in public, itís a fair starting point, weíve room to negotiate, and itís because I think they are hesitant to take on a president right now that they see as setting some of the agenda. So I mean I think thereís going to be some real difficult negotiations to go because frankly the Presidentís budget doesnít ante up and isnít--isnít really going to balance it in any reasonable time period.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there places where there can be compromise, do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there are, and the obvious--the obvious points, theyíll get into the tax argument, whoís going to give how much, but just one point I did want to add to reinforce what Paul said--Bill Clinton stands alone on the political landscape right now. I mean, the central figure in the budget drama for the past generation is Bob Dole. And heís gone, and Leon Panetta, and heís gone. And the Republicans look at Bill Clinton--heís at 62 percent. They thought they had him on the ropes in 1995. He whamped him 1996, and they can blame Dole, or they can blame George Bush in 1992, but all of a sudden here is a 62 percent approval. Heís got high favorable ratings and low expectations, so he is setting the agenda, and I think heís in the strongest position of his entire presidency right now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, letís talk about this for a minute before we go on with the budget. There was an interesting article by William Bennett in The Weekly Standard saying that the Republicans lacked leadership because Newt Gingrich has not taken the leadership he should because of the trouble heís been in. So this sort of corroborates what Markís saying.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, there is a malaise among Republicans right now, particularly in the House, but I would say also in the Senate, thereís awareness, Iíd say even a timidity. One of the shrewdest things Bill Clinton did I think was to ignore the advice of a lot of the liberal Democrats in the House and in the Senate and embrace the balanced budget in 1995, because once he did that, he could say Iím fiscally responsible, and my balanced budget can do this, and he could change the debate from whether or not the Democrats were the tax and spend party to what should government do, and when he embraced that balanced budget, what he did was I think he disarmed the Republicans intellectually. He basically got them back on their heels because a lot of Republicans have begun to just say balanced budget and youíre home free. So now the debate is over, well, should government do this on education, and Bill Clinton is saying, whenever he proposes a new program, he always says, my balanced budget does this, and heís got the Republicans back on their heels because theyíre not saying--theyíre not engaged in what should government do or what shouldnít it do. And on that debate I think Bill Clinton is winning.
MARK SHIELDS: Two quick points. First of all, in the 104th Congress the Republicans came to the first majority in 40 years in the House, and they were burning the--they wrote a budget. And they found out much to their consternation, disappointment, and pain that the devil was in the details; that the president was a brilliant counter puncher politically; that he took advantage of their soft spots, and he triumphed, and he prevailed, and they were knocked back on their heels, and thatís where their timidity came from. Thatís the first point. The second point is as far as Bill Bennettís article--and I have enormous respect for Bill Bennett--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Letís remind people thatís a former--
MARK SHIELDS: Former secretary of education; heís a leader of sort of the moral conservative movement in the country, traditional movement in the country; he and Sam Nunn, Joe Lieberman, the Senator from Connecticut, an interesting, intriguing figure. But I think heís a little harsh on Newt Gingrich here, especially as far as reaching out to Jesse Jackson, which has been criticized--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Criticized, yes, this is one of the things that he was criticized for.
MARK SHIELDS: Polls will tell you, Elizabeth, among younger African-Americans there is not the kind of enthusiasm for the Democrats that there is among middle-aged and older African-Americans. Thatís a target group. Thatís a target of opportunity. Newt Gingrich, whatever else he is, is an unconventional, unorthodox political thinker. Heís been able to think outside the blocks and to do things like that. And I think that the overtures that Newt Gingrich, conservative Republicans are making to African-Americans are smart politically and the right thing to do for the country, I really do.
PAUL GIGOT: One of the places where Republicans did do better in 1996, surprisingly, than theyíd done in a long time was in young black men. Thereís no question about that. They got a bigger chunk of that vote than theyíve done in a long time. They lost him on Hispanics, but thatís--itís been a surprise, and I think Republicans do see that as a target of opportunity, but I think Bennetís point was less about reaching out to Jesse Jackson than it was about a fear that Newt Gingrich in an attempt to rehabilitate himself might instead of making the case for Republican principles try to reach out to people whoíve been his political opponents. Itís a sort of a tempest in a teapot, but itís mostly I think reflective of that fear that Newt Gingrich may go the other way.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We just have a couple of minutes left. Paul, where do you think--back to the budget--where do you think thereís room for compromise?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, in the end, I think thereís going to be compromise. Thereís going to have to be compromise on a whole number of things. I think there will be compromise on taxes, I really do. I think Trent Lott wants a capital gains tax cut; the presidentís signaled that heís willing to grant it. I think in return for that the Republicans probably will give the president what he wants on his new education entitlement tax to offer to pay--tax cut to pay for two years of college, or something like that. But the biggest--I mean, thereís going to be fights over a lot of it. I think in the end, probably theyíre going to go for some kind of inflation adjustment, Consumer Price Index adjustment to fudge the numbers and make Ďem work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A few seconds left, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: First of all, I think education is central here because American voters are not ideological. They are principled pragmatists. In the most recent international test, 45 nations of schoolchildren, American schoolchildren, finished 18th in science and 23rd in math. Americans arenít going to say should it be the county, should it be the state, or the city, or the local. They want our schools to improve, and the president is seen as the principal improver, and I donít think the Republicans want to be seen as opposing that.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you both very much.