SHIELDS & GIGOT
JULY 12, 1996
A marathon session with the NewsHour's regular pundits. First up, the impact a Perot candidacy might have on the election, and, Bob Dole's campaign woes. Kwame Holman interjects with an "explainer" on Congressional gridlock, then more Shields & Gigot commentary. They speak tonight with Jim Lehrer.
KWAME HOLMAN: On April 23rd, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that ensures workers who either lose or leave their jobs can keep their medical coverage.
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SPOKESPERSON: The ayes are a hundred. The nays are zero. The bill is agreed to.
KWAME HOLMAN: And this past Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure raising the minimum wage by 90 cents within two years. The vote on that bill was 74 to 24. Health insurance reform and a minimum wage increase, two major pieces of legislation that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and were approved just as easily in the House, so why are both bills still stuck in Congress?
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: (Yesterday) The Senate is involved in a rolling gridlock. In fact, it's gone beyond rolling gridlock. We're in absolute gridlock.
KWAME HOLMAN: Health insurance reform in Congress is held up on the issue of so-called medical savings accounts. House Republicans were able to make them part of their bill, but in the Senate, Republicans fell just a few votes short.
SEN. BOB DOLE, Majority Leader: (April 18) I think it was a close vote and as one of the conferees on the tax side, I think there will still be opportunities in a conference.
KWAME HOLMAN: A conference is a meeting of selected members from the House and Senate designed to resolve any differences between their respective versions of a bill. The members are called conferees and until they're appointed, the bill goes nowhere.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: (Tuesday) The issue has to do with whether or not we're going to accept a provision that the Senate is on record in opposition to.
KWAME HOLMAN: To date, Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Health Insurance Reform Co-sponsor Edward Kennedy have used Senate rules to block Republican leaders from appointing conferees on that bill. The Democrats want assurances that medical savings accounts won't be included in the final bill that emerges from the conference with the House.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: We've considered the MSA's. Those were rejected. We've rejected it, and they are trying to come back through the back door.
KWAME HOLMAN: But now some Republicans are using that same strategy of blocking the appointment of conferees to delay the minimum wage increase, which also passed largely due to the efforts of Sen. Kennedy.
SEN. DON NICKELS, Majority Whip: (Tuesday) I think Sen. Kennedy hopefully will see the wisdom in moving forward on the health bill and appoint conferees. It's not my intention to start getting into a match of not appointing conferees, but he--you know, rules of the Senate can go both ways. And I think it's important. I think it's important to finish the--the health bill, and so once that's done, maybe we'll consider an appointment of conferees. And I can assure you that I won't block appointment of conferees on the minimum wage bill any longer than he's blocked appointment of conferees on the health bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: The stand-off has been aggravated by Democratic Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan of Nevada. They took control of the Senate floor on Wednesday and vow not to let it go until the Senate shelves a plan to ship thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel to a storage facility in their state.
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN, (D) Nevada: (Yesterday) The Senators from Nevada are fighting for their lives. The legislation that is being proposed with respect to an interim nuclear waste dump is without precedent in the history of the country, in the history of the Senate; therefore, to ask the Senators from Nevada to surrender any of the parliamentary rights which this body confers upon us is to ask us to abandon the constituents that we represent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, the Nevada filibuster stopped action on a defense spending bill, angering, among others, the bill's manager, Republican Ted Stevens.
SEN. TED STEVENS, (R) Alaska: (Yesterday) Mr. President, I've been here a long time, and I've seen a lot of filibusters, I've seen a lot of delay on the floor of the Senate. I have never seen any Senators, and I would challenge anyone to show me that any Senator filibustering has ever held up a bill that's in the interest of the national security.
KWAME HOLMAN: And one month into the job of Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott finally showed signs of his frustration.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I am new in this position. I'm trying mightily to do a good job by finding a way to produce, finding a way for the Senate to act while honoring the needs of 100 Senators. It's not easy. It's very hard. It takes cooperation. It takes communication. I'm going to try to go to an appointment of conferees on health care. For 80 days it's been held up to appoint the conferees on the health bill, 80 days, while we've had these running negotiations.
We blew four hours or more yesterday, when we could have probably completed the Department of Defense appropriations bill. But, again, in an abundance of wanting to be fair, I understand how important this is to the Senators from Nevada. I'm sympathetic to how they feel. But I'm more sympathetic to doing the job and doing what's right for all of America. I'm ready, but as of right now, we're completely balled up, and it is not my fight. I'm beginning to feel like Charlie Brown. I keep running up to kick the football and it ain't there.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: For how many times you talk about kicking the ball, how about when you feel like you are the ball? I mean, that's really what we're talking about here. It's not a question of where the ball is. The ball is here and we're getting kicked.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lott proceeded to tick off a list of legislation he says the Senate should consider immediately, but he was blocked repeatedly.
SPOKESMAN: Is there objection?
SECOND SPOKESMAN: I regret to object.
SPOKESMAN: Objection is heard.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lott had little choice but to give Senators a four-day weekend. They'll be back on Tuesday with Senators and Reid and Bryan of Nevada controlling the floor and perhaps hanging onto it for as long as they're physically able.
JIM LEHRER: Again to Mark Shields and Paul Gigot. Mark, what's going on here?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Trent Lott, a gifted, able legislator, the House Republican Whip when he was in the House, is finding out what a terrible job Bob Dole had. I mean, it's a tough, tough job. It's a lot easier, Jim, when you're in the minority to have a totally disciplined group in opposition. The Republicans did it when they were in the minority; the Democrats are doing it now. It is--it just works this way. We're not accountable. We can't pass, we want to pass, but if we stick together, we can really influence and shape this place. And the Democrats have.
JIM LEHRER: If we can keep the majority from passing what they want to.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I mean, if you look at it, if you look at it this week, Jim, the Senate of the United States by 72 to 20--74 to 24 passed a minimum wage bill. Now if I'd sat here a year ago and said to Paul, Paul Gigot, let me tell you, this Congress, this Senate is going to pass by better than 3 to 1 a minimum wage bill, you would have said, Mark, you ought to go to Menninger Clinic and immediately seek professional help. I mean--
PAUL GIGOT: I might say that anyway, Mark. (laughing)
MARK SHIELDS: It's been enormously successful, I mean, the tactic--
JIM LEHRER: In other words, the tactic--
MARK SHIELDS: The tactic has been successful.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it has been, but there's something bigger going on here than just the, the problems in the Senate, and that is there is a deliberate Democratic strategy to stop everything. The Democrats understand, and Bill Clinton wants something in the White House because he's the incumbent and he wants--he'd like to get a health care bill to sign, and he'd like to get a welfare bill to sign. He campaigned on those. He'd like to get 'em.
The interest of the House and Senate Democrats is completely different. They're in the minority, and they want to run against a "do nothing" Congress. They want to shut things down, and David Nixon, who's Ted Kennedy's policy director on health care told the "Washington Post" this week, he said, if it fails, we have a much easier time blaming it on the Republicans for the failure. They don't want anything to pass, and that's the frustration that Trent Lott is showing, and he's trying to begin to make the argument that somebody like Ted Kennedy is holding up the health care bill so that if it does all break down, they're not going to be the ones to get the blame.
MARK SHIELDS: I, I just think the demonizing of Ted Kennedy is a little late. I mean, it's hard to--it's one of the things that's happened--it's one of the things that's happened to the Republicans--they've run out of demons. I mean, they used to have Bella Abzug, they used to have all these people. They don't have 'em anymore. I mean, the reality is that, I mean, they're just playing tit for tat. Don Nickles is doing exactly the same thing that Ted Kennedy is.
PAUL GIGOT: But he's held up the conferees for 80 days. I'm not demonizing him. That's a fact.
MARK SHIELDS: Hey. The reality is, Paul, that Don Nickles, you just heard him in Kwame's piece, is going to do exactly the same thing.
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. To try--
MARK SHIELDS: He's--
PAUL GIGOT: --to try to break--
MARK SHIELDS: We could argue. I mean, the irony is, of course, the great Nevada debate, Dick Bryan and Harry Reid, the two Senators from Nevada, Dick Bryan was a governor of that state, he was elected in 1988, and he beat Chick Hecht, who's a Republican, who led that same fight, and Chick said he didn't want Nevada turned into a nuclear suppository. That helped to contribute to Chick's defeat. It's an issue that's not going to go away.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, but we are.
PAUL GIGOT: Thank God, people are saying. (laughing)
JIM LEHRER: For tonight at least. Thank you both very much.
PAUL GIGOT: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.