BUDGET DEALS AND MINIMUM WAGE
APRIL 26, 1996
Political columnists Mark Shields and Paul Gigot join Jim Lehrer to discuss the budget deal, minimum wage and the early stages of the Presidential race.
JIM LEHRER: Now, our end-of-the-week political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. The '96 budget deal passed yesterday, signed today by the President, both sides are claiming victory. How can that be, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Jim, that's the way it should be in democracy, seven months late--no, I think each side can take something from it. Certainly, the Democrats got the chance of spotlighting those issues where they differ from the Republicans on the environment. They got the advantage. They got the advantage on Head Start, education, student loans, things like that, and the Republicans can certainly make the case that $23 billion less than last year, folks, and they're singing our tune. They may be rearranging the lyrics, but that's our music that, that you're dancing to.
JIM LEHRER: Paul.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, about four or five months ago, the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, was talking about the budget to his colleagues in the House, and the Republicans, and he said, the President wants to stay in San Francisco, think of it this way, stay in San Francisco. We want to get him to New York, and we're going to make sure he stops in Buffalo, and we'll meet in Buffalo. This is kind of stopping in Salt Lake City. I mean, they didn't make that much progress. It wasn't as much progress certainly as the Republicans talked about making, but I mean, it's progress, cutting the budget. They said they would cut spending; they have, $23 billion. They didn't make the big success on entitlements, which are the real spending drivers, but they can at least say we deliver ,the President won't sign it, and that can be an issue in the election.
JIM LEHRER: We had back-to-back interviews on this program last night, John Kasich and Leon Panetta, and, of course, Panetta emphasized the President got his 1,000--100,000 cops back, the President got AmeriCorps back, the President got environmental, education things back, and Kasich said, no, no, no, no, that was never the issue, the issue was always the money and the $23 billion. But that, that's just realistic, that's what each side should be doing, is that right?
MARK SHIELDS: I think each side should, I think, but, Jim, as long as you're talking about cutting the budget, okay, and cutting the budget in huge terms, even though this is only 15 percent of the budget, it's been said, and Paul's right, that entitlements are the, are a big casino, as long as you're talking about that, that's a Republican issue, it's a conservative issue. I mean, that's the conservatives' advantage. I think Chairman Kasich probably overstated it when he said it was the greatest event since the end of World War II.
PAUL GIGOT: He's an enthusiastic fellow. (laughing)
MARK SHIELDS: I think that may have been hyperbole, but, no, I think, I think that you can make the case that as long as you're talking about cutting it, it's to the Republicans' advantage. Now, the seven year is a different thing.
JIM LEHRER: The seven year is a different thing. Are there any politics in this--wait a minute--let me start all over again. What are the Presidential politics of the budget? All the polls show, to load the question terribly, Paul, all the polls show that the public is kind of tuned off, tuned out to the budget thing right now.
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: Based on what has happened, what happened yesterday, and the President signing on all of this, who wins politically, if anybody, for '96?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it depends on who best sells their argument I think ultimately, but the President--
JIM LEHRER: Which spin we heard last night prevails.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right, and if you believe, as I do, that when things happen in this city that are sort of deemed accomplishments, that incumbents win, then maybe the President wins and the Republican Congress wins, because the President's argument is basically this. I agree with Republican goals, I want to cut spending too, I want a smaller government too, but you need me as a check and balance on them, and the Republican congressional argument is none of this would have happened; Democrats couldn't even cut the Interstate Commerce Commission; they couldn't cut the tea tasters without us, and we put this stuff on the agenda, and, and so, look, we didn't get everything, but we'll get more next time if you don't throw us out.
JIM LEHRER: Politics.
MARK SHIELDS: Politics. First, politics, Jim, big, big advantage to Bill Clinton and the Democrats. I mean, when this fight began, the Democrats were reeling, they were down for a mandatory eight count. Bill Clinton was considered dead meat, he was not going to be--he was going to be challenged for renomination with his own party, as a direct consequence of this struggle, this fight, and the way Clinton drew the lines in making Speaker Gingrich his adversary. He's been restored not only to political health but to robustness.
JIM LEHRER: The shutdown--
MARK SHIELDS: Shut down the government--hurt the Republicans, the Republican numbers have plummeted since this fight began, since the stand-off over the closing down of the government. The President looked responsible. The Republicans were seem as extremists, so at least they, they seemed to suffer that designation. So in that sense, it's to the Republicans' advantage to get it done, I mean, to get this agreement now, because, I mean, you want to get it behind you. It's just not a happy time for them. I think that Paul is right in terms that if we, if the people of the United States still want sort of a checks and balances, not constitutional but political, with one party in the presidency and other party in the Congress kind of keeping an eye on each other because we don't trust either one of them, that it probably does work to the advantage.
JIM LEHRER: For both of them.
MARK SHIELDS: And I think it's a fault line among the Democrats. Bill Clinton, President Clinton is able to achieve a seven-year balanced budget agreement with Sen. Dole, that Sen. Dole is essentially deprived of a campaign issue.
JIM LEHRER: But the Republicans are saying they don't even want to talk about that right now. What's that all about, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I mean, I don't think they want to go back to the scene of their humiliation in the White House. I mean, I don't trust Bill Clinton to do a deal, that frankly, I mean, they don't want to get near him. I mean, some of the Republicans wouldn't in the end, would not let Newt Gingrich go alone to the White House for fear that they've had some kind of Vulcan mind-meld or something, and they would go off and do a deal that--(laughing)--really, they--he has them intimidated a bit. You know, they don't--they believe in a way that he was not telling them the truth, that he sent signals he wanted a deal and then in the end didn't, and then there's the very political question that Mark points out that Republicans want issues. The President wants to get credit for welfare reform. He wants to get credit for spending cuts. He wants to get credit for a balanced budget deal, but not in a way that significantly changes the nature and size of the government, is the Republican argument. So if you really want change, you have to replace the man at the top.
JIM LEHRER: And so they have to say that issue--they don't make a deal?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the--the President's position is, look, we're only an eighth of an inch apart, you know, we can work this out, and the congressional Democrats have a different approach. Congressional Democrats are saying, wait a minute, these guys basically want to foreclose on Mother Theresa, Little Sisters of the Poor, they are the meanest guys in the world, they, they just want--that's all-they're heartless, and they're harsh, and we're going to stop them, and so if the President is saying there's very little difference between, that does not help congressional Democrats who are basically saying these guys are really bad fellahs.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of congressional Democrats, they have made a huge issue of minimum wage, and the Republicans neither in the House nor the Senate will allow a vote on this. What's that--read that--parse that one politically.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, for now, they won't allow a vote. I don't think in the end they'll be able to prevent a vote. Last week, they were in full retreat on it. This week, they managed to kind of collect everybody, get 'em back and begin to--Republicans--reassess and make a stand, and what they want to do is they want to--I think they believe ultimately that a minimum wage vote is going to be held. They want to have it more on their terms. If it simply raises the minimum wage, that creates all kinds of heartburn for their constituency, for small business people who have to hire people, pay the wages out, for anybody who thinks that it's going to cost jobs. The--so what they want to do is they want to change the nature of the debate and say we, instead of the minimum wage being the answer for working people, we can offer you a $500 tax credit, for example, that will reach 28 million households where the minimum wage reaches, you know, a couple of million heads of households. They want to reframe the issue on how best to help working Americans, and they're beginning to do that. They've got some ways to go.
JIM LEHRER: Ways to go?
MARK SHIELDS: Long ways to go, Jim. Their debate on minimum wage is over in the country. It's done. Stick a fork in it. The American people have decided that you cannot raise a family, you cannot run a household on $4.25 an hour.
PAUL GIGOT: But you can't do it on 15 an hour either, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: $5.15 an hour.
PAUL GIGOT: $5.15, which is the--
MARK SHIELDS: They've made the decision, Paul. They've made the decision that people are going to work full-time, that is not enough, and they're going to get a raise, and coming--the support for minimum wage is no great political advantage to the Democrats. Opposition to it is an enormous liability to the Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
MARK SHIELDS: Because, Jim, not only voters, focus group after focus group, when people are asked how do you feel about somebody who's making $133,600 a year and will not, will not support an increase in the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour? Uh, immediately, people just say, that's outrageous, that's indefensible. People know, people know this is not the answer to the economic malaise or problems of the country, but they think it's an element of fundamental and sound fairness. That's all it is.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Dole said it an interview that he did with us a couple of weeks ago that the argument--he laid out the argument that you just laid, Paul, but he said, you know, you can't make that argument politically, and is that where it is?
PAUL GIGOT: The Speaker of the House believes that too. He said you can't can have, North, in particular, Northeast marginal district Republicans just saying no. I don't think that it is that powerful of politics frankly. I think it's because the great middle class, which votes ultimately and controls elections, doesn't make $4.25 an hour. Their kids do, and those are the swing voters. I don't think that that issue has that same power.
MARK SHIELDS: The longer this controversy is around, Jim, the more it hurts the Republicans. The Republicans, quite frankly, Dick Armey, the Majority Leader, who looks like he rolled the Speaker on this issue, quite frankly, the Speaker didn't look--the Speaker made a position, he recanted and reneged on that position. I'll tell you. They are not believable when they say, what we really want to do is help people making $4.25 an hour, and that's why we don't want to increase the minimum wage, but we've got this great plan we're coming up with, we're going to come up with a plan. I mean, and I'm sorry, it's just not plausible, it's not convincing.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. We mentioned Sen. Dole. The piling on among Republicans on him has just gotten ferocious this week--Bill Bennett--Bill Kristol and many others. What's going on, Paul? Why is everybody dumping on him?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he, he hasn't gotten off to the best start. He, umm, he has made a mistake, I think, in staying in the Senate, the Senate strategy. Tommy Thompson, the governor of Wisconsin, a big Dole supporter, made a very good point and gave some good advice to the Dole campaign this week. He said, instead of staying in Washington, Bob Dole should have been out with me when I was signing an historic welfare reform bill, because that would have begun to do what these critics of Bob Dole want him to do, which is begin to make the case.
JIM LEHRER: But my question is, all of that said and done, he's their candidate, and if he loses, they lose. Why are they not rallying? Why at this particular time are they seeming to dump on him, rather than to help him?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, some of them are journalists who need to sell newspapers and magazines.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Bennett isn't.
PAUL GIGOT: Bill Bennett, I don't understand why Bill Bennett did what he did. He almost sounded like the election was over. He said, if we're going to go down, we're going to go down with the--on principle. Well, I mean, there are five months to go before you wave the white flag. It didn't make any sense to me. The election debate hasn't even been joined yet.
MARK SHIELDS: A day is a lifetime in politics. Six months is an eternity. We are more than six months away from election day. It makes absolutely no sense. I mean, shooting at the wounded is what the Republicans are engaging in. It is, it is unbecoming to them. It's unhelpful to their party, and it's unfair to Bob Dole. I mean, it makes absolutely no sense. These are guys who just can't resist a microphone.
JIM LEHRER: Well, why, I mean, why, what's driving them? I mean, what could they possibly benefit--what kind of benefit could they possibly get?
MARK SHIELDS: Maybe Paul can analyze that. I can't. I mean--to me, it's an irrational act.
PAUL GIGOT: Bill Kristol's argument, and he's a lawyer, Republican strategist, but his argument is that he's afraid Bob Dole is going to take down the House and the Senate, and, and he wanted to issue a wake-up call to the Dole campaign to get on the stick because, if you don't--
JIM LEHRER: Because there is still time to recover if they want--
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. There is still time to recover. Now, I think he gave some bad advice when he told them, look, separate yourself from Bob Dole, the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans should get away from it. Well, I mean, Jim, he makes no sense.
MARK SHIELDS: Is there anything wrong with a private phone call? I mean, is there anything wrong with saying, Jeez, Bill Bennett says, gee, Bob Dole, I think you ought to do A, B, C, I mean, do you have to do this before all the cameras and microphones in the Western Hemisphere?
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of that, we're going to turn 'em off right now.
MARK SHIELDS: You do that.
JIM LEHRER: Good-bye. See you next week.