June 25, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal discuss the battle to set the domestic agenda between Congressional Republicans and President Clinton.
MARGARET WARNER: And that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. We saw the president, as we just aired, the president and Congressional Republicans lay out these competing legislative agendas, Paul. How should we look at this? I mean are both sides going to make a serious effort to pass this stuff?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the best way to look at it is they're not serious legislative agendas so much as they are serious electoral agendas. They're all about positioning I think, for the year 2000. The president said today that he thought this should be like 1995, when both sides got together and passed things. Welfare reform ultimately passed in 1996, but the president made his accommodation on the balanced budget. That doesn't prevail now. Then you had a Republican Congress that really wanted to do things and a president who felt he needed to sign on to some of them to neutralize some of their other things. Now you've got a Republican Congress that doesn't have the votes to do much, doesn't have the confidence to do much, and I think from the president's side, you have the president who said -- who's concluded that -- "my legacy is not going to be about passing things in 1999; it's about winning in 2000." So he's trying to position and use issues as a way to make them issues not for accomplishments. He doesn't expect much of this to pass, but he wants to portray the Republicans as not being able to do much so he can give the Democrats and Al Gore the issues.
|Competing legislative agendas.|
WARNER: You see it that way, Mark, that real neither side really has much
incentive to do anything legislatively?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be some legislative product out of here. I think there will be a tax cut this year, I think there will be an increase in the minimum wage. But I think that at the same time, Margaret, what drives Bill Clinton and the Democrats in this situation I think comes back to another George Bush, President George Bush. In 1991, after the Persian Gulf War, he soared in the public opinion polls to unprecedented heights of 91 percent and then rested on his laurels with nothing to do and no domestic agenda. And soon his popularity and his administration went south. But Bill Clinton didn't get that kind of a boost, that kind of a lift out of Kosovo, but Democrats want to come back to the domestic agenda very much so. They want to come back to education, they want to come back to health, they want to come back to Patient's Bill of Rights, to Medicare, to issues where they enjoy popular confidence over the Republicans. And they want Bill Clinton out in front on them because he makes the case.
MARGARET WARNER: Can we look at the items he laid out today? The Clinton agenda, does that equal the Gore agenda and does it equal the Congressional Democrats' agenda in terms of the electoral --
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's very close. I think it's very close. I think earlier this year you could have made the case and a lot of Republicans hoped that President Clinton would say, "Here's a window of opportunity to do something on two very big issues: Entitlements in particular, Medicare and Social Security." You've got Republicans who want to do something and Bill Clinton could say-- and that would be a major achievement, but I don't think that's going to happen anymore.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean they thought because his legacy was at stake that he would want to do this?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. Instead of the last thing people remember about him being the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment, why not move beyond that and pass these big, which would be very large, important reforms of these programs that people think are significant? But he had the chance to do that if he was going to do that on a bipartisan basis on Medicare with the Breaux Commission, John Breaux of Louisiana, who the president named as his chairman of his Medicare Commission came out with a report that was -- could have had a report. It had Bob Kerrey, the Democrat from Nebraska in support, John Breaux, had Republican support, but in fact the White House blew it up. And they blew it up over the issue of Medicare prescription drugs. And the reason they did was because the Congressional Democrats think that's a winner. They think that's a big winner for them in the election but it means that on Medicare, there's no trust between the two sides and I don't think much is going to be accomplished.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Paul, that the president thinks his legacy is really winning, Gore winning in 2000, rather than a big achievement?
MARK SHIELDS: I think President Clinton is realistic. I mean, the chances of getting anything through are pretty remote right now. I mean you have -- what the Democrats miss and the Republicans miss right now is Newt Gingrich. I mean the Democrats -
PAUL GIGOT: You especially, Mark, right?
MARGARET WARNER: All of us.
MARK SHIELDS: He put a face on the Republican party.
PAUL GIGOT: Me, too.
MARK SHIELDS: He unified Democrats and at the same time he did unify Republicans and he was a formidable adversary in that sense. That's gone, so there's a sort of mushy feel, both caucuses, the House Republican caucus and the Senate Republican caucus - this sign -- if not warfare, at least tensions and fractiousness. So I think where President Clinton looks at this right now is that he has a chance to lay out an agenda that makes it more likely-- I think Paul's absolutely right on one crucial point, and that is the Medicare thing is gone. The Medicare chance for a compromise is gone. There are a couple of factors beyond 2000 that contribute to that. In 1988, the Congress, you'll recall, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, and the Democrats that controlled the Congress, raised for catastrophic illness for people on Medicare, a premium increase for only the wealthiest that was rather modest in retrospect. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, then Dan Rostenkowski of Chicago, was surrounded in a car, and it was like a South American coup, if you recall, his car being shaken and all the rest of it, and the Congress quickly rushed to repeal it. That's in Democrats' minds. Second, Democrats are trailing among elderly voters. They've lost their -- in the last two elections. They have not carried voters over the age of 65. Celinda Lake, the pollster, explained to me the difference between Reagan elderly and Roosevelt elderly, among very old voters, those who are products of the Roosevelt era who still revere the New Deal and that president, there's loyalty to the Democrats. But among the more -
MARGARET WARNER: The young old, as we call them.
MARK SHIELDS: The more juvenile, callow 65-year-olds, they're Reagan. And -
MARGARET WARNER: That's interesting.
MARK SHIELDS: And so the idea of risking that some kind of a provocation, which might -- I think you could make the case it's very good public policy, but Democrats see it as bad politics.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that's why they want -- that's why Democrats are offering the issue of prescription drugs. They want they to say, "look, instead of tax cuts, we'll give you this kind of coverage." Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money, and this -- what the Democrats fear is that there'll be a premium increase for Medicare that then that will -
MARK SHIELDS: And the Republicans will say that's a tax increase. That's right.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: But wouldn't you say that the prescription drug coverage issue might even be popular with aging baby-boomers who know how much prescription drugs cost and are looking ahead to when they're not working and they don't have these nice little cards they can go in and -
PAUL GIGOT: Free goods -- something you can sell as free goods are always popular. The problem is if you make them understand the costs and then the issue of what about -- if the federal government does begin to subsidize drugs, then do you get into controlling the prices? And that hurts research because price controls can do that down the road.
|George W. Bush goes to Congress.|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. George W. Bush went to the Hill this week. How do you see his relationship with Congressional Republicans, both right now and as it's going to play out to 2000?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean Democrats immediately made the charge that he was in the pocket of Tom DeLay, the House Republican Whip who's a controversial figure in Washington on Capitol Hill, but beyond you know, the beltway, I mean you couldn't pick Tom DeLay out. Nobody knows who he is. Again, Newt Gingrich is missed. I mean, Newt Gingrich was a face that Democrats could identify. But George W. Bush takes some of the rough edges of the Republican Party, as of now, and softens those sharp edges. He puts a smile on conservatism, and I think what's remarkable is not his relationship with them as much to me as it is their relationship with him. They want a winner. They're not asking him any questions, they don't ask him where he goes when he goes out, they don't ask him whom he saw, what he likes, what he wants to do. He's a winner, and that's really -- and they're all just trying to get close.
PAUL GIGOT: The apostles have got a glimpse of the Messiah or what they hope is the Messiah. I mean, the Republicans, if you talk to them on Capitol Hill, they talk like John the Baptist about -
MARGARET WARNER: Really?
PAUL GIGOT: Saying-- in the Senate, George Bush, I was told, was 30 minutes late for his meeting, so the Senate policy lunch, the Republican policy lunch had already broken up. Most of the time they scatter to the winds. 36 of them came back. Now, I'll tell you 36 wouldn't show up for Steve Forbes. And so they --they really want to see -- they really hope that he can put an agenda together and provide the leadership that can take them out of this situation where they feel they can't do anything, sort of save them from the Clinton/Gore presidency.
MARK SHIELDS: It's amazing. These same Republicans-- Paul's absolutely right-- just eight years ago, seven years ago were saying, "Bill Clinton on-the-job training, Michael Dukakis has to go to the International House of Pancakes for foreign policy." I mean, George Bush, they're not asking him to name the NATO countries because he probably couldn't.
MARGARET WARNER: All the polling does show, too, that George W. Bush is more popular among, say, especially independent voters than Congressional Republicans and his agenda is more popular. Does he have to keep a distance from them in any way?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. I think -- I think that the Congressional Republicans need a presidential nominee, Bush or somebody, more than the nominee is going to need the Congress during the campaign season. Obviously, he'll need it if he's elected. And the members of Congress think that they're not going to hold the House anyway if they don't win the White House. But George Bush, if he can run a campaign or any Republican, with Al Gore, who has spent all of his life, just about all of his life in Washington, as the insider and they are -- the Republican is the outsider, that's going to really help that Republican because Washington's never that popular, and it's very dangerous for the Republican nominee to come in and begin to become associated too much, too closely with a Congress that is not even all that popular among Republican primary voters. There are a lot of Republicans who are disappointed with what Congress has not been able to accomplish. So if I were George W. Bush, I don't know that I would spend one more day here, particularly accepting checks from every lobbyist in town.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, he had this $2 million fund-raiser too. Do you agree with Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: He had a $2 million fund-raiser and already the issue of being too much of an insider is being raised by Steve Forbes, whom Paul mentioned.
MARGARET WARNER: Who can just write his own check.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. But they've sent a letter, internal, Bush workers, urging lobbyists to get involved in the Iowa straw poll, which is in August, in which George W. Bush has entered to the surprise of somebody, its expectations being that he would win it and blow several campaigns right out the water at that point because they wouldn't be competitive. And they've asked 50 lobbyists in Washington to get 15 people to use company buses and transportation. This is what he doesn't need. I'm not saying it sinks him, but he doesn't need that kind of association or identification with the Washington power structure and establishment.
MARGARET WARNER: When you look again at these polls, speaking of blowing out all the other candidates, it's astounding just since George W. Bush announced, you know, the gap between him and even just Elizabeth Dole is just huge.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, part of it is that George W. Bush had a really big -- a good announcement. I mean he got a lot of favorable press, there's no question about it. Nobody else can get -- break through. John McCain broke through for a while on Kosovo, he put a stamp on that issue. But now he's not on the talk shows every night. He's not on television, he's not getting that kind of attraction. Steve Forbes tried to with ads, and his staff claims they did in sop of these key states, but nobody else has gotten much that's an issue that can break through George Bush's momentum.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.