SHIELDS & GIGOT
JANUARY 26, 1996
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot discuss this week's budget maneuvers with Jim Lehrer.
JIM LEHRER: So Congressman Kasich says they miscalculated the strength of the President, among other things.
MARK SHIELDS: That was an exceptional interview. It really was, disarming candor. You know, I, I have to say, I marvel at John Kasich. I mean, he's always an intriguing and interesting public figure, but he's given a postmortem before most people know there was a death. And I just don't understand the strategy. I mean, I respect his candor, but I mean, I don't understand why the Republicans don't follow the advice of Bob Reischauer, who had been the head of the Congressional Budget Office under the Democrats, and say, look, we moved Bill Clinton, a year ago, Bill Clinton was for $200 billion deficits in perpetuity, Bill Clinton was against a balanced budget, Bill Clinton was against limiting in any way the entitlements. He's moved on all of those positions, and instead of, you know, the hand-wringing and hair pulling, I'd just be saying, boy, we've got him most of the way, now let's pull him the rest of the way.
JIM LEHRER: If you listen to what Kasich is saying, you would believe that the President hadn't moved at all.
MR. SHIELDS: No, and it just--the whole year's been for naught. It's been a valiant, gallant effort by his definition, but somehow we've failed.
JIM LEHRER: How do you explain that?
PAUL GIGOT: Very easily. Bob Reischauer, who I respect a lot, is an honest liberal, and he likes the role, the shape of government in Washington the way it is. He likes the entitlement programs, by and large, the way they are, with some reforms that will crunch down on doctors and on hospitals and other people, but won't reform the programs, themselves, won't take power out of Washington, that welfare and Medicaid would do, give it back to the states. I think the Republicans are saying that the balanced budget, our mistake was maybe--one of our mistakes--they've made a few--was in arguing that the balanced budget, making it seem as if all we wanted was a balanced--
JIM LEHRER: What it was all about.
MR. GIGOT: The balanced budget was the end. In fact, it is a means to an end, and that means it's to get power out of this city and to do a lot of other things that will change the nature of the government.
JIM LEHRER: So when the President said, okay, you want a balanced budget in seven years, I'll balance the budget in seven years, he took the steam out of it because they didn't press on, is that what you mean?
MR. GIGOT: Well--the President just refused to sign, and there isn't enough public pressure right now to make him sign, so what can you do? I mean, he's got the veto pen; the way our system works, big changes are harder in any case. If the President isn't going to sign it, they have to move to another strategy. I think part of that strategy is going to be trying to reframe a lot of the budget issues in ways that begin to get people to see the stakes of individual policies.
JIM LEHRER: Does this mean, Mark, that the "Republican revolution" is over, or is it stalled? Give me an overview here.
MR. SHIELDS: I think it's definitely stalled. I think, Jim, it's always easier to put together a coalition that has differences when it's a seizing of power, an election campaign, and any election campaign coalition even though they don't agree on everything, there's sort of, there's sort of an uneasy truce that accompanies it, or an easy truce, because we're going to strike for power. Boy, oh, boy, once you get power, managing the coalition becomes a more difficult operation, and they did the smart thing. They did exactly what they ought to do. They went the first year. They went out hard to try and get it, and now, now you're going to start to see the fissure and the fault lines and the other problems. I mean, all of 'em are facing reelection in 10 months. That becomes a problem, and so I think, I think there's no question, they've made a bold move, an historic move, but now they're going through this period of self-doubt, public self-doubt. I mean, I thought the Speaker did as well. I mean, you can say it's candid, you can say it's refreshing and all the rest of it, but it isn't reassuring when you're trying to get your troops, who just lost a big one, to, to coalesce again.
MR. GIGOT: Well, they had a strategy, and it didn't work, and now they've got to recollect, get back to headquarters, sort of decide what they do next, and I think the right word is stall; it is not over. One of the Republican leaders up there told me today that it's half-time, and that's what he's been telling--
JIM LEHRER: Half-time.
MR. GIGOT: Yeah. We've still got a ways to go, and I think one of the big advantages they have--and you saw this--it's kind of the silver lining of the State of the Union--a lot of the press attention has been on the virtuosity of the President and stealing the Republican's idea, but the point is a lot of his ideas are going to--and they still--and the direction of policy. That's a significant advantage as we move ahead towards the election.
JIM LEHRER: But that is your point. Why don't they say that, hey, look at us, we won, but they won't, they can't afford to do that, is that right, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: They can say we won if they can get some incremental gains, I think, and you'll see an attempt to try to do that. They'll probably offer a welfare bill that they'll try to put together with House and Senate Democrats, that sort of thing.
JIM LEHRER: Another thing that Kasich said that reminded me of I think it was four or five weeks ago we ran a sound bite on the NewsHour where Tom DeLay, who is the Majority Whip from Texas, House Republican, said on the floor, we don't--no, at a news conference--he said, we don't need the Senate, we don't need the White House--we can do it ourselves. And what Kasich is saying that basic strategy was wrong.
MR. SHIELDS: That basic strategy, that was sort of an empty threat at that time that turned out to be. It was the kind of thing of scratching your own mosquito bites emotionally, kind of gives you a good feeling when you say, boy, oh, boy, they can. You know, in truth, and literally, he was right, but in reality, and politically, he was wrong. They can't just stand there and de-fund everything they don't like because they'd live then in peril of having a disaster of some sort visited upon them.
MR. GIGOT: You know, there is something interesting that's happening, though, even these, this temporary funding bill, and that is that the programs, the discretionary programs, the education programs, the housing programs, because the President has decided he's not going to sign the entitlements, reform the entitlement programs, which are growing very fast for the middle class and even in many cases the upper class, since they're universal, everybody gets them, the programs that are the Democratic priorities and have the education, housing, these things are getting squeezed.
JIM LEHRER: Way down.
MR. GIGOT: 75 percent.
JIM LEHRER: 75 percent.
MR. GIGOT: So the President is making a choice that, you know, in defending these entitlements, he's making his promise on education spending really a hollow promise.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Kasich's basic point, the point I just made to, to Mark, that where they made their big, biggest miscalculation, they being the Republicans, they really thought they could roll the President and they couldn't?
MR. GIGOT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: It's not a very nice way of putting it.
MR. GIGOT: That's not a nice way of putting it, but I think that that is--and in two senses--a lot of them feel that they had assurance from the President personally that he would do a deal, not saying that he lied to them, but just saying that they had read him, and felt he had made the commitment, and Dick Morris had made that commitment too through some of the--
JIM LEHRER: He's one of the President's advisers.
MR. GIGOT: Advisers. But one of them told me, if we had to do it over again, we'd spend $15 million on advertising in September because even if we had internalized it, we didn't care about the polls, the President was looking at the polls, and if we'd have kept more pressure on him that way, he might have signed it.
MR. SHIELDS: Well, there was one thing that Chairman Kasich said to Margaret that really just had a sense of really sad deja vu. And that was Bill Clinton is a great communicator. I mean, that's this idea, and the Speaker almost said the same thing on Wednesday, boy, Clinton is really good, he's a great communicator. Voters are not fools. Democrats used to rationalize the same thing of Ronald Reagan. He was a great communicator. Voters know what Presidents are saying. They know who Bill Clinton is; they're not ready to put him on Mt. Rushmore, but they know exactly what he's saying. And the idea that, that was the whole criticism of Bob Dole after the speech Thursday night was, oh, boy, he can't go toe-to-toe with Bill Clinton, because Bill Clinton's a dazzler; Bill Clinton's a mesmerizer, Bill Clinton will hypnotize people all over the country. Voters can sit there. They knew what Ronald Reagan stood for; they know what Bill Clinton stands for, and I think both sides, Kasich in this case, the Democrats under Reagan, really do a disservice to themselves by trying to attribute it to some external quality.
JIM LEHRER: What is the residue still going around Bob Dole's response within the--I mean, Bob Dole is saying it's all the liberal media, but it's the Republicans who are still helping him, aren't they?
MR. GIGOT: Well, it's all of his colleagues who want--they're all saying, hey, a lot of Republicans, grassroots Republicans, all feel a little bit like John Kasich does; they all feel that we've got the message; we don't have a messenger. And so when they look at Bob Dole and the contrast to Bill Clinton, the younger man, the older man, who had a poor night deliverywise, they say, oh, oh, we're in trouble. But I think if you look at the message that Bob Dole is delivering, I think that that was a message a lot of Republicans want, primary voters want to hear. The question is, you've got all these other candidates saying he's the wrong messenger, and he's too old and so on, so that's--it's hurting Dole. I don't think there's any question about it. It has hurt him.
JIM LEHRER: A quick thing on Dole, then we want to move on.
MR. SHIELDS: Okay. You had total role reversal all week. Bill Clinton began the State of the Union by doing Ronald Reagan. I mean, he was optimistic, he was upbeat, he was magnanimous, he was throwing praise to the other side, picking heroes out of the gallery, then Bob Dole comes on, he's Newt Gingrich; he does all of Gingrich's attack lexicons, pathetic cultural elites, and all of that. Then Newt Gingrich comes on Wednesday and does Bob Dole. He's accommodating, he wants to get--he's Monty Hall, let's make a deal. I mean, it was just, it was total role reversal all week long. And I think, I think Dole by giving the speech opened himself up, it's never news when Democrats attack Republicans or Republicans attack Democrats, but when Dole chose to give the speech, he knew that Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan and Phil Gramm would all attack him, and that's the Republicans attacking Republicans; that is news.