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On Sabbatical

Political Wrap


July 10, 1998

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript

With approximately 40 days left in the 105th session of Congress, Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the major issues that could affect the 1998 midterm elections.

RealAudioA RealAudio version of this segment is available.


July 9, 1998:
Susan Dentzer reports on the background issues in the HMO debate.

Online Forum:
Should the government regulate managed care health plans?

June 18, 1998:
Three political pundits try to gauge the views of American voters.

June 2, 1998:
Five members of Congress discuss the agenda for the rest of the year.

Browse the NewsHour's past segments with Shields and Gigot.

JIM LEHRER:Political Wrap Now some Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.

JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight Shields & Gigot, World Cup soccer, and the music of the US Marine Corps Band. Shields & Gigot, our syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.

Gentlemen, regulating managed care, we talked about it on this program last night. Congress is back next week. Are they going to do anything about it?

The managed care debate.

Political WrapPAUL GIGOT: I think they might, Jim, I really do. The Democrats-if they want to take over the Congress, they need an issue. When you're in the minority, you need something that galvanizes people, gets people to vote. What they've been trying have been busts frankly: tobacco, not really something people run out in the streets for; campaign finance way overrated as an issue. They think they found one in protecting patients from HMO rationing of health care, and there are enough Republicans who think that this is an issue that they don't want to get on the wrong side of, but they're going to try-I think they will probably try to pass something.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?

MARK SHIELDS: Paul's right. When the economy is bad, the economy is the only issue. When the economy is good, in order to be an incumbent, you have to come up with another issue. Republicans couldn't in 1996, and Bill Clinton won. Democrats better in 1998, if they hope to make any gains at all, or just hold their own. Jim, four years ago in this country we had a big debate over national health care. And David Gergen, who was then a counselor to President Bill Clinton-

JIM LEHRER: I've heard the name.

Political WrapMARK SHIELDS: --argued against the omnibus Clinton plan, because he said, look, this is going to lead inevitably to rationing of health care, and people are going to be angry at the government, and they're going to be angry at the government to put it in, and you're going to pay for it politically. Well, we got rationing even though we didn't get a national health plan.

JIM LEHRER: Through HMO's.

MARK SHIELDS: Through HMO's. And now the ire and the fire is directed at insurance companies and the Health Maintenance Organizations, and there's no question that it is at issue. I mean, North Carolina-Sen. Lock Faircloth, Republican running for re-election, challenged by a Democratic plaintiff's attorney, a multi-millionaire himself who's made this a big issue-I stand for the patients against the big insurance companies-Sen. Faircloth quickly ran out and changed his position, and now he's for a plan. So the Republicans are scurrying to come up with a plan of their own.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it's a legitimate issue, Paul, or is strictly a political issue?

PAUL GIGOT: No. I think there is an issue, if you have cancer and you need an experimental Political Wraptreatment and you've been denied permission, well, that's very important to you. You know, insurance, you want to make sure that that is something that can be covered. But it's not fair simply to say this is something that HMO's and the evil guy profit seeks made because HMO's are a function of the marketplace responding to the runaway costs. So we ask somebody to ration care, and since we have such a screwed up marketplace that prices don't ration care as they do other resources in the economy, we end up with bureaucrats doing it, whether it be government in Medicare, or in the private sector it turns out it's become HMO's. So it's not a clear philosophical divide between the parties, because it's not a-I mean, HMO's are hardly laissez-faire kind-they're already a bureaucratic entity. So Republicans might be more willing to regulate something like that than they would other subjects.

JIM LEHRER: But you all-Susan Dentzer said on the program last night that she felt that it could replace-same thing you said-it could replace all these other-as the hot issue when Congress comes back.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it's something that Republicans are going to try to respond, as Mark said. I think the interesting question politically is whether Democrats let them, because Republicans are not going to pass all of the rules, particularly ones that help lawsuits like the Ted Kennedy bill offers, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Democrats wanting that issue in November filibuster in the Senate and say, wait, and then blame the Republicans for not going far enough and trying to make it that galvanizing issue.

Political WrapMARK SHIELDS: The Democrats have by every measure of public opinion a fifteen to twenty-five point edge over the Republicans on the issue of health care and particularly taming the excesses of HMO's or representing patients' rights. So I think the political element of it is a-is real. It's permanent. It's not going to go away. We had yesterday the conservative Republican position staked out by Steve Forbes, a presidential candidate who said, we don't need any more Soviet-style regulations. There's sort of a rhetorical nostalgia. But I mean, that's a position that he doesn't want the Republicans coming up with a dime store New Deal and coming up with a similar plan.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Paul, what else is Congress likely to do of consequence when they come back next week?

The final days of the 105th Congress.

PAUL GIGOT: The show's over, Jim. They're not going to-(laughter among group)-they're not going to press-both sides are going to be positioning for the election. I think Republicans are probably going to try to pass a tax cut, put it on the president's desk, ask him to sign that, and if they don't-

Political Wrap JIM LEHRER: Raise Cain.

PAUL GIGOT: Yes, and say, look, if you elect more of us, you'll get a better tax cut. There will be some fighting over social issues. This election, Jim, in November is going to be about turnout. It's going to be one of the lowest turnout elections maybe ever, and-


PAUL GIGOT: Times are good.

JIM LEHRER: Because of just what we're talking about?

PAUL GIGOT: Yes. People-

JIM LEHRER: There is no issue-

Political WrapPAUL GIGOT: People have low expectations of what they get out of Washington. Washington is meeting those expectations. And there's not a great drive, do something, so Congress-the approval rating is higher than I can remember it.

JIM LEHRER: And so when somebody makes the charge, oh, it's a "do-nothing" Congress, nobody really cares, do you agree with that?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that's certainly the guiding principle of the majority party in Congress and for many in the minority party. It's a sense of there's no reason, there's no compelling national reason to throw out incumbents now, so why give 'em one, and-

JIM LEHRER: You mean by causing-

MARK SHIELDS: Doing something. I think it's fair also to say that the Republican revolution-we've gone through two previous elections, which were fascinating. In 1994, the Republicans swept to victory Political Wrapon Capitol Hill, the first time in forty years, and they did so by running against Democratic domination of what the perceived Democratic excesses were of '93/94, when they controlled everything. The Democrats won the presidency for the first time-the second term for the first time in 60 years in 1996, by running against the perceived excesses of that Republican Congress in the persona of the Speaker. So now we're at a point of excessive timidity. Incrementalism is the-

JIM LEHRER: And no excesses to pin on the other one.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. As soon as somebody comes up with an idea, the Democrats come up with an idea on patient's rights, the Republicans are going to have a plan. It's going to be 50 percent or 60 percent off and with people who went to better business schools running it, but that's what it's going to be.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. How would you assess the state of the Republican leadership in the Congress right now going into these last few months of this session?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, they've sheathed their knives from last summer, but it's still tense. I don't think that there's-

JIM LEHRER: Tense you mean internally between and among them?

Fighting within the Republican Party.

PAUL GIGOT: Particularly there's an expectation in some quarters-maybe Political Wrapwrong-but that a lot of people think that Newt Gingrich may run for president. If he does run for president, that vacates the speakership. There's a competition under him between the majority leader number two, Dick Armey, and the head of the Appropriations Committee, Bob Livingston, to succeed him. Now whenever you have that kind of-there's a competition internally-

JIM LEHRER: And it's there on the table no matter what you're talking about, right?

PAUL GIGOT: Exactly. It is exactly, and so they're fighting over a particular issue, the strategy. Livingston says I'm an appropriator, we got to get something out here, guy, I need my prerogatives. Armey says wait a minute to try to win over different factions within the party. I think that has an upsetting effect. The other thing is with an 11-seat majority, you know, everything is just pulling teeth, because there's 11 guys get together in the back room, and they can basically pull you down, so you got to bring those folks-

JIM LEHRER: For any reason?

PAUL GIGOT: Right. So you got to bring them on to the table.

MARK SHIELDS: Congressman Mo Udahl, the wonderful Arizona Democrat, once said that when Democrats form a firing squad, they form a circle. And Political WrapRepublicans have stolen that page from the Democrats' play book. There's no question, Paul's absolutely right. I mean, the tensions and the fault lines are there, and you can see them maneuvering for the future, but the problem is there's no majority, there's no consensus, and there's no agenda. So I mean-you know, there really isn't-and there's no urgency or emergency within the country compelling any of the three.

JIM LEHRER: What about a minority, what's the status of the minority? Is there a strong minority?

MARK SHIELDS: Always easier to be in the minority, always. I mean, you can get-

JIM LEHRER: Well, then why does everybody want to be in the majority so much?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, then you can make a difference, but you make political points in the minority by you get everybody on your side to stand for the cause, knowing full well the cause isn't going to pass. I mean, the greatest example was campaign finance reform. Democrats passed it when they were in the majority and George Bush was going to veto it. Republicans were for-Speaker Gingrich was for abolishing soft money and for eliminating PAC's in 1993 when Bill Clinton was in the White House and Democrats controlled it, and he knew they wouldn't do it. Go into the majority and things become a little bit more complicated.

JIM LEHRER: The Democrats-

Fighting within the Democratic Party.

PAUL GIGOT: The Democrats-because they're in the minority, you can paper over divisions. The big division in the Democratic Party is between one side of Pennsylvania Avenue and the other, that is, the tension between the minority in the House and the President of the United States. The President of the United States-Democrats in the House want to say it's a do-nothing Congress. The Political Wrappresident says let's take credit for a balanced budget, let's take credit for tax cuts, let's take credit for IRS reform. Well, those were all done with a Republican Congress. So there's a natural tension there.

JIM LEHRER: And we are done as a matter of fact. Thank you both.

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On Sabbatical!

When my office lease expired at the end of 2004, I decided to turn it into a "sabbatical" from my private practice. Many years ago, in my grandfather's 89th year of life, he told me, "John, it is important to smell the roses while you can still smell them." His life gave living a very good reputation. It is also true that the pursuit of that philosophy required my grandfather to to re-open his assay office/ore market in Wickenburg, Arizona as a 75-year-old because he had run a little short of retirement money. Thus, if blessed with his luck and health, I'll be back.. --jjh

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