January 9, 1998
From President Clinton's new child care policy to Newt Gingrich's new vision, Jim Lehrer discusses the week in politics with syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Some final words tonight now on the surplus question and other matters tonight from Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, how do you see this surplus thing?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
January 8, 1998
An apparent suicide attempt further complicates the Unabomber trial.
January 7, 1998
President Clinton outlines a plan to help families pay for child care.
January 6, 1998
Younger retirees and laid-off workers may become eligible for Medicare.
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The surplus thing.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I think it has the potential to be a real sea change, big change in our politics, Jim. I think weíve been living with this deficit era for 30 years, and the politics of deficits are really very different from the politics of surplus. And I think it may produce a real irony. And that is that who wanted most desperately to balance the budget as a matter of politics, conservative Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Just as Pat McGuigan said.
PAUL GIGOT: And who opposed it most vociferously, liberal Democrats Who may end up benefitting in this era of balanced budget politics, I think liberal Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Because if the Democrats can take the balanced budget theme and say we are now fiscally responsible; weíre no longer a spendthrift federal government, sin city here in Washington; they can use that, and they can use extra revenues, the enormous revenues that this growing economy is throwing off, to spend on new programs. And they have some more political cover to promote more activist government and more programs, so I think thatís what the President did this week.
JIM LEHRER: Is that how you see it?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think it is the end of an era. Thereís no question about it; I think Paul is absolutely right. The reality is that the Republicans have seen two great issues that worked for them for a generation: Cold War, national defense, stand up, get tough with the Soviets, gone. People still think the Republicans are better at national defense, but national defense is no longer a salient issue. The budget balance, which Republicans paid great lip service to, and loved as an issue and recycled the constitutional amendment and all the rest of it, and it did work for them with people, the voters felt the Republicans were committed to it; thatís gone, are about to disappear as an issue, so I donít know--the Republicans find themselves, quite frankly, at a disadvantage, because the issues that do emerge at this point, at least in every litany of public opinion Iíve seen, are, in fact, making Medicare and Social Security on solid footing, education--
JIM LEHRER: Thatís what Phil Gramm suggested.
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís what Phil Gramm--
JIM LEHRER: A couple of commentators said that too.
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís right. But thatís where people in open-ended questions, the Wall Street Journal poll, todayís USA Today/Gallup Poll, thatís exactly where they want to spend the money--on education.
JIM LEHRER: But what about Mike Barnicleís point? I mean, Mike answered that question very directly. I have--hereís a way to spend that surplus. That is exactly what Paul is saying that thatís what the Democrats will do with that, right, or proposed to do it?
Mr. Shields: "I mean, if youíre talking about transfer of payments, kids are right at the end of the line. I mean, they are not organized; they donít have an AARP; they donít have a lobby; they donít have a PAC.
MARK SHIELDS: I think Mike Barnicle makes a terrific point. I mean, the reality is this, Jim. In the United States we spend $10 every person over the age of 65 that we spend for a child in public programs. I mean, if youíre talking about transfer of payments, kids are right at the end of the line. I mean, they are not organized; they donít have an AARP; they donít have a lobby; they donít have a PAC.
JIM LEHRER: What are the politics of this? I mean, whoís going to win this argument, or who looks like may win this argument, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Right out of the gate here in this first week of surplus politics, if you will, I think the Democrats do, and I think the Democrats do because Bill Clinton is in the White House, No. 1, and can write the budget, begin to take some credit for the balanced budget, and then to set the agenda on Medicare. You saw this week it came out. He did something extraordinary, Jim. Two years ago Medicare--everybody in town was saying itís busted. Right now itís still--itís still going to have a trillion dollars worth of net liabilities in Medicare the next 10 years, even with current use. The President said, expand it anyway. Nobody has done that in 30 years.
JIM LEHRER: We ought to explain that for those--expand it by allowing people under 65 to buy into the program, various people who have lost insurance for various reasons, et cetera. Itís a complicated thing, but basically it would allow people to buy in, rather than cover them automatically.
PAUL GIGOT: Instead of just going for retirees conceptually, it will now go to people who presumably are still working. So thatís a very big--
JIM LEHRER: All the way down to 55 years old, if they qualify for various reasons. Do you think that program has merit, and do you think itíll make it?
PAUL GIGOT: I think as a matter of fundamental policy itís wrong. I think itís dangerous. Politically, I donít know quite how it will go. It depends on how the debate unfolds. I think the program is still in trouble.
JIM LEHRER: The Medicare program.
PAUL GIGOT: Thereís no question about that. And to add new users of that program to a program that is already broken is dangerous. And if Republicans make that case, thereís still some suspicion out there on the part of the public that maybe this program isnít as great as it is hyped up to be. And there was also some suspicion about Democrats that, you know, they might just want to spend like they won the lottery too fast. It depends on the shape of the debate.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about this Medicare proposal specifically?
MARK SHIELDS: I think what Bill Clinton has tried to do--heís tried to cover kids and children, and heís tried to expand medical coverage to make it available. He failed in the major cosmic effort, the global effort in Medicare, and national health care in 1994, but I think thatís what this is. I mean, I think this has--
JIM LEHRER: Is a piece of that action, right?
MARK SHIELDS: It has enormous political appeal. Thereís an awful lot of widows at the age of 62 who find themselves without health care. But I think an important thing, Jim, that shouldnít be overlooked here is Bill Clinton was right. He was right about the economy, and his critics were wrong. They said they would diminish revenues; revenues would shrink with Bill Clintonís tax increase in 1993. Revenues are up over 55 percent. Thatís tax revenues paid. The economy has grown. The economy is ebullient. Itís buoyant. Itís vital. Itís robust under Bill Clintonís stewardship. And this wouldnít happen as well. I mean, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House, said it was going to double welfare rolls; it was going to cause a recession. I mean, Pete Domenici said it was going to send the deficit through the ceiling, I mean, Bill Clinton--under Bill Clintonís watch and under his leadership and under his guidance and under his program. And the other person that deserves credit, quite frankly, is George Bush because 55 percent of the reduction in that--results in this balanced budget that we are about to approach comes from tax increases, the lionís share of which were imposed at George Bush and it cost George Bush--
JIM LEHRER: His re-election.
MARK SHIELDS: --his re-election.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see the history there the same way?
PAUL GIGOT: This is the tax increase route to prosperity. No, I donít see it. In 1994, in January 1994, after the Ď90 budget increase, tax increase, and after Bill Clintonís tax increase, the Congressional Budget Office predicted $200 billion deficits as far as the eye could see basically. What happened is that the economy grew--thereís no question. If Mark wants to give all the credit to Bill Clinton for the tax increase, he can do that. I know a lot of economists whoíd share the wealth to Alan Greenspan and to the Congress that controlled--that began in 1994 to control spending and get a sense that there was some responsibility in Washington fiscally. But thatís a different debate. So the credit for the deficit, I think, is broadly shared.
JIM LEHRER: But another specific program that the President put out this week was child care, expanding child care. What are the politics of that?
PAUL GIGOT: I think theyíre very popular. Theyíre popular because there are a lot of people who are working and would like to get a little extra help on child care. I think the Presidentís reading the polls properly. I think the Republicans, concerned as they are about the gender gap, will probably go along with the tax subsidy.
JIM LEHRER: They did oppose it very strongly. I was not surprised, but I was interested in the fact that there was some strong Republican opposition to the child care proposal.
PAUL GIGOT: No. None of them want--nobody, Jim, wants to step up and say Iím opposed to taking care of children. Where I think youíll see the Republicans object, though, is in the federal rule-making side of this proposal, which is that if the federal regulators or state regulators begin to make it harder for child care providers in the name of quality but, nonetheless, setting barriers to it.
JIM LEHRER: From a federal program--
PAUL GIGOT: That is where the opposition will come.
Mr. Shields: "What weíre talking about with the Medicare and the child care proposals are essentially warmed-over Dick Morris."
MARK SHIELDS: Theyíre scared stiff of Bill Clinton. I mean, letís be quite frank about it. We heard Newt Gingrich give his state of the state speech, or state of the union, state of the world this week, and it was--it was timid rhetoric from a self-styled revolutionary, for a man who was a transformational agent, as he once described himself just two years ago. I mean, this was a speech that was about continuity, not change. Theyíve been burned by Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was the supreme, superb counter puncher. Now, letís say one other thing about the President, though. What weíre talking about with the Medicare and the child care proposals are essentially warmed-over Dick Morris. I mean, theyíre small, incremental. He has an enormous amount of political capital right now, more political capital, more political popularity than any President at this stage of his presidency in modern times. Jim, the question is: That has an expiration date on it. If you donít use it, itís gone, I mean, just like milk. And the question is: What is he going to do with it? And I think thatís really what--
JIM LEHRER: We should--and Medicare expansion and child care program expansion were part of that?
MARK SHIELDS: Part of it but not in the real sense. I mean, is he going to do something, whether itís what Mike Barnicle talked about, or what Phil Gramm talked about, something big, something grand.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Newt Gingrich--we mentioned it before--Mark just mentioned it again--this speech about his four goals, et cetera, whatís that all about?
Newt Gingrich's speech: "90 percent blue sky."
PAUL GIGOT: The words that come to mind are "big picture," Jim. You know, those old paintings, those 19th century paintings, where 10 percent of the picture is landscaped, is land, and 90 percent is blue sky. Thatís what that speech was--90 percent blue sky. Part of the reason Mark is correct, heís very cautious because he has been burned. He wants to go slow. There was some very good stuff in there, some far seeing stuff on Social Security, the need to re-think that program in a way that doesnít bankrupt the country. But he doesnít have the same authority he had, so he canít go out in front of Congress and lay out a whole agenda. He has to consult all the committee chairmen and all of the other leaders and say, well, do we agree on this, do we agree on this--
JIM LEHRER: Another world.
PAUL GIGOT: --a lot more caution.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Another world. And thank you both very much. And Iíll see you next week.