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Charles Rangel and J.C. Watts Debate Bush's Economic Stimulus Package

Aired October 4, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've heard the cries of those who have been laid off. We worry about the shock waves through our economy. And instead of talking, we are going to something about it.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: But is President Bush doing the right thing to jump start the economy? That's tonight on CROSSFIRE.

BILL PRESS, HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. You know things must be getting back to normal when the president and Congress resume doing what they like best: spending money. Lots of it. Up to $75 billion in the president's package to stimulate the economy on top of $40 billion already sent to New York and $15 billion to bail out the airlines. Just where that new $75 billion goes is the big debate.

Democrats and the president want to target those that lost their jobs. Some Republicans in Congress argue instead for corporate and capital gains tax cuts. And members of both parties are trying to add their pet projects, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The only thing for sure: the surplus is history, and we're back to deficit spending. Is that good or bad?

Two high fiscal flyers here to debate the stimulus package. On the Hill, Republican J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chairman of the House republican Conference. Here in the studio, Democrat Charles Rangel of New York, top Democrat on the House Ways and Means committee -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman Rangel, thanks for joining us. Some Democrats, sadly, are taking this opportunity, the stimulus package, to stage something of a pinata party. I'll name one: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. Listen to some of the things Senator Reid wants to do with this money. Add $5 billion for highways construction, $5 billion for mass transit projects, $3.2 billion for Amtrak, and $12 billion for high-speed rail, including a rail line between Los Vegas and Orange County, California. Is this really the time for this sort of work?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: No, we do need fiscal discipline. And it seems to me the best place for it to start would be with the president. Not too long ago, the president and Congress were talking about we would not invade the Social Security trust fund. Now we are at war. Now we have to restructure where the budget was.

I am convinced that the commander in chief would not even have thought about a $1.6 trillion tax cut over a 10 year period, if he knew one, that we were on the brink of a recession, and two, that we would be engaged in a war.

Once he says we are going into the deficit, and once he doesn't have any answers about how are we going to shore up our responsibility for Social Security, then members of Congress are saying, well, if somebody's going to get theirs on this, I want to get mine in. Is it wrong? You bet your life it is. But had there's no fiscal discipline coming from the White House.

CARLSON: As a noted fiscal disciplinarian, perhaps you could take the lead in reining in the spending. Let's just target one thing: Amtrak. Subsidies for Amtrak, the Amtrak bailout. Of all the industries affected by September 11th, you would have to say Amtrak -- which has increased ridership in the northeast corridor, which is its most lucrative rail line -- probably needs at least -- the idea of spending three billion on Amtrak at a time when people are going to train over air travel. Can't we zero this out?

RANGEL: You have no idea how important these issues become when they're in the member's district. Why, we have people that were fighting against the farm bill because it would take us into the deficit spending. Now that the president has already intruded and penetrated it, they're supporting the farm bill, notwithstanding the fact that it costs billions of dollars, because other people have their vested interests.

It seems to me, Tucker, that it makes a heck of had a lot of sense for the president to say, "Can we review where we have been, where we are and get our priorities in order?" If that doesn't happen, then it's you two competing with your congressional district against my congressional district without anybody in the White House saying, "What about that fiscal responsibility we used to talk about?"

CARLSON: The president has to keep you from spending money on Amtrak.

RANGEL: He said that he had to take the money and get it out of town with a tax cut. Now there's no money in town and he wants us to spend it anyway.

PRESS: Congressman, let me pick up there. We're having a little technical difficulty hooking up with Congressman J.C. Watts. So I want to ask you -- did you say that it's time for the president to review, to reexamine. Let me ask you about reviewing and reexamining one thing.

Given that this is a national emergency, given that we are going to have to go into the surplus and we are in recession, isn't it time for the president to say, "I've re-examined that big tax cut I pushed earlier this year, and I think there are more important things to spend it on than what we said we are going to do. And I'm going to cancel at least all or part of that."

RANGEL: That's the third rail in politics. I raised that with Secretary O'Neill this morning, in saying that in view of the fact that we have it locked into the top one percent.

PRESS: Right.

RANGEL: In view of the fact that it's a hundred billion dollar shortfall and that we expect to spin ourselves out of the recession, why can't we have a balanced budget this year? He got up and said, "This is no time to talk about a tax increase." And so, the language that they use, how do you have an increase when you never got the cut in the first place? You've got to be honest and put it on the table.

PRESS: We are going to try now to make sure Congressman Watts can hear us. Congressman Watts, are you there?

REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: I can, I can.

PRESS: OK. Good. I don't know whether you heard that discussion we were just having with Congressman Rangel, but I want to throw that question to you. We are looking for every dollar we can get in to stimulate this economy.

WATTS: I'm sorry, Bill, I have a busy signal in my ear. I hear you talk and I don't understand you.

PRESS: I understand. We will come back to you.

WATTS: But Bill, I did hear you and Charlie saying that that tax relief package was too big. That -- I have to disagree with that, simply because if 68 percent of the economy is driven by consumer spending, it's healthy and it's good for the economy to give people their money back to buy appliances or to buy food, to buy clothes, to help with house payments. That's a good thing, and I think, you know, what we see ourselves drifting into post-September 11th -- boy, let me tell you, that was very prophetic that we passed the tax package when we did. That's good for the American people.

RANGEL: Suppose I agreed with you and said that it's consumer confidence that we're after, and we have to get that money out there. Why then would the Secretary of Treasury say that we ought to accelerate the tax cut with the middle income and why would Mr. Armey and Mr. Thomas talk about capital gains tax cuts? Talk about tax cuts for accelerated depreciation and expensing variety of things for the corporations. They're not really investing, because they can't get rid of the goods they have. So half of the stimulus package is a business package that the Republicans had before we went to war.

WATTS: Well, Charlie, I agree with you. We should -- I agree, we should accelerate the tax rates and allow people to get their money back sooner. Get it back quicker so they can spend it, so they can do things with it to help expand the economy. But that's not the only thing that we should be looking at. I think we should look at many things that would allow us to get dollars into the economy, to allow businesses to expand, to create jobs. I think we ought to look at the energy package. We ought to move the energy package. It makes us less dependent on foreign oil. Plus it creates jobs.

RANGEL: How can you say that when they're laying off people?

WATTS: Well, Charlie we have to do our part as a government to encourage investment, to encourage expansion, to encourage job creation.

RANGEL: The problem is not lack of investment. The problem is lack of consumption.

WATTS: I think those things are good.

RANGEL: And they are good, in good times.

WATTS: Well, the American people will consume if they have something to consume with. It takes dollars for consumption.

PRESS: Congressman, let me give you a question, because there is a lot of talk about tax cuts. I think we are all for tax cuts, as long as the people who deserve the tax cuts get them.

WATTS: Bill, I can hardly hear you. I can hear Charlie much better.

PRESS: I can't shout as loud as Charlie shouts.

WATTS: Good point.

PRESS: Can you hear me that way?

WATTS: I think we can make it work.

PRESS: All right. Here's what I want to say. One of the proposals on the table is to give a tax cut this year to the 29 million families who didn't get any tax cut under the first Bush tax rebate because they don't make enough money to pay income taxes. As a Republican, are you going support that? Or, like Phil Gramm, are you going fight it?

WATTS: They pay payroll taxes.

PRESS: Of course.

WATTS: Again, Bill, I said we ought to at things that will allow the government to get money out of Washington and get it into the hands of the American people so they can consume. They can consume groceries. They can buy groceries.

PRESS: Is that a yes, Congressman?

WATTS: There's a lot of different proposals on the table. I think we need to look at anything that can allow to us get dollars in the hands of consumers, so they can participate in commerce.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Rangel, I know you must be convinced listening to Congressman Watts. You both agree that the economy is driven by consumption, that the problem is that people are not consuming. I'm not sure I understand the problem you have with accelerated tax cuts when that is the quickest, most straightforward way to put cash in the hands of consumers so they can consume.

RANGEL: We are talking about people that already got a tax cut in the first place. And what Bill was asking -- and what we can't get an answer from Mr. Watts is -- what about the people who pay the payroll taxes? They were not included in the tax cut. So let's start off with them. What about the people who lost their jobs that don't have unemployment compensation? They want to buy something. Why don't we say they're going to be there. How about the ones that it's expired? What happens to the people who lost their jobs and they don't have health insurance? Why can't we say the government is going to be partners with you so that you can buy health insurance?

CARLSON: But nobody is necessarily saying the government can't be partners with those people.

RANGEL: Let's talk about it.

CARLSON: But that's two different lines of argument. Let's get back to the idea that Alan Greenspan has endorsed that, the president apparently is for, and that is for accelerating the tax cuts already in place. They're already there. Why not accelerate them?

RANGEL: Because we have to find out what the priority is. If that was a part of bigger package where health care was taken care of, where we knew that unemployment compensation was being taken care of, that the people who didn't get tax cuts were being taken care of, and then we take a look and see the cost of these tax cuts for corporations. Please agree with me that in a time where we're having a recession, business people are aren't looking out to make investments. So why not give them something now and say it's temporary when they're not in the position to hold onto what they've got?

WATTS: Bill?


WATTS: Bill, can I take a stab at that?

PRESS: You're on.

WATTS: We are talking in riddles here, as though these things don't already exist. We today have in place a program in the federal government for worker's compensation for those who have -- I mean unemployment compensation for those who have lost their jobs. We have health care benefits. That is all on the table. No one said that they are opposed to those things. So let's not talk about those things as though anybody is against them, because we support those things. PRESS: Here's one that's not decided, Congressman, which is a corporate -- I mean, a capital gains tax cut. A lot of Republicans are asking for it, starting with Trent Lott. A tax future that would go to the wealthy people that already got the biggest tax cut in American history. Isn't this the worst possible time for a capital gains tax cut?

WATTS: Well, Bill know this is the going to shock and amaze you. You probably won't be able to comprehend this, but...


WATTS: But about 88 percent of the people that pay capital gains make $75,000 dollars or less. You know, that is the truth. And so to say that that's just for the rich, we have seven trillion dollars tied up in capital gains. Again, as I said, nothing has been concluded. But we need to look at all things in order to get money into the economy, in order to expand the economy so people can have jobs. You guys have to be careful that you're not qualifying a job as unemployment for a year and a half. People want to go to work. They don't want to have unemployment the rest of their lives.

RANGEL: Let me throw you (UNINTELLIGIBLE). How in the world does capital gains tax cut spur the economy and get consumer confidence when what you're doing is rewarding people with lower taxes on selling what they've got? Share that with me.

WATTS: What you're doing Charlie is getting some of the that seven trillion dollars into the economy. If they're spending it, if they're expanding their business...

RANGEL: Spending it? They're selling their stock.

WATTS: They're selling to expand their business. They could sell it to expand their small business.

CARLSON: We're going to have to hold it right there for a second. We have to take break. When we come back, the federal government seeks to stimulate the economy. Has a massive pork fest begun? We will bat it around on CROSSFIRE when we return in just a moment.



BUSH: I'm going ask Congress to ask this question: will what I vote encourage economic growth? Not will it make me look better at home or will it satisfy a narrow constituency. But will my vote stimulate economic vitality and growth?


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Get the economy moving, but do it without pork. That's the message from President Bush to Congress. It's a tall order. Will Congress obey? Can it? Or will an addiction to hometown spending, to bridge and road work, to breaks and goodies and grants for local industries, derail a federally- inspired economic recovery?

That's the question we're posing tonight to two men who decide how the nation's money is spent: Congressman Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York City; and from Oklahoma, Congressman J.C. Watts, a Republican. Bill Press.

PRESS: Congressman Watts, that was a good message there from President Bush. And I want to throw it to you, because if you look at some of the proposals on the table, Democrats have no monopoly on their love of pork.

Senator Merkowski from Alaska is saying he wants a new national gas pipeline built all the way to Chicago. Senator Imhoff is saying now is the time we have to drill for oil in ANWAR. And Congressman DeLay, of course, is saying, this proves we have to build that missile defense system right away. Are you willing to say, as a leader of the Republicans in Congress, that if there's no direct connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11, there should be no deal and no money?

WATTS: No, Bill, I'm not willing to say that because of this. I think we need to look at -- just as the president said, and that those remarks that you aired there -- we need to look at whatever we can do to create jobs, to expand the economy, to create economic security. The energy package, that gas pipeline, the energy package, the missile defense.

Those things are very important. We can't abandon the American people in terms of security right now. The missile defense -- those same people that drove those planes into the World Trade Center, missile defense probably wouldn't have stopped that.

However, the same evil and poisonous hearts that drove those planes into the World Trade Center are the same evil and poison hearts that could point a ballistic missile on Norman, Oklahoma or New York City or Los Angeles, California. So those things have to -- those things are in relation not just to the economy. We have to worry about securing our citizens as well.

PRESS: Congressman, in other words, what I hear you saying is anybody can hitchhike anything they can on this big spending bill and try to take an opportunity and take advantage of the situation to get it through.

I want to give you another example. Robert Zoelick has come in front of the Congress and said, now is the time we've got to push fast track. Trade promotion authority. It has nothing to do with September 11th. Wouldn't you agree, and don't you think it's the wrong time to push it?

WATTS: Bill, let me tell you why you think those things are so foreign to you. You don't believe in creating jobs in the private sector.

PRESS: Congressman, come on. That's crazy.

WATTS: You believe in making people dependent on the federal government. You expand the economy. You expand the economy by getting money into the economy. And also let me say, you can't -- we can't just say we've got to be concerned about the economy. We've got to be concerned as well about this war on terrorism. We are fighting a two-pronged war here, one with the economy, one with terrorism. They both have to go forward.

PRESS: And fast track has nothing to do with it.

WATTS: Trade promotion. I know you wouldn't think that, Bill, but trade promotion authority allows us to expand markets for agricultural products. In the fourth district of Oklahoma, where I'm from, it allows us to open markets for any products in America. So what's wrong with expanding products so the American people can have jobs? What's bad about that?

RANGEL: Some of the things that he's saying -- I support some of the things that you're saying. And I think Bill was trying to say that it should be targeted just to the war. And I agree with you. It is should be targeted to the war and targeted to the economy, because in the long run we want to build it up and have consumer confidence. But first of all, when you talk about fast track, you have to put in bipartisanship. And nobody on the Republican side has talked to any Democrats and we are marking up the bill tomorrow.

WATTS: Charlie, that is not true.

RANGEL: I'm the ranking member. Listen. You're not on the committee. Take my word for it.

WATTS: That is not true. No, I'm not going to take your word for it.

RANGEL: No one talked to me about fast track. The second thing is that the president's man, Secretary O'Neill, a part of his package is that we give a block grant of money to the governors of the country. You said there's no pork in it, but the president said you have to show there's a direct stimulation to the economy. What is giving the governors money got to do with anything?

CARLSON: Wait, Mr. Rangel. Hold on. Before we go further and we run out of time to rebut each and every one of these statements, let's go something -- and you said it yourself. People are using this opportunity, both parties, to throw in their hobby horse.


CARLSON: So let's talk about the one some Democrats are now saddling up, the minimum wage. Some Democrats are suggesting the minimum wage ought to be raised $1.50. Now, study after study after study after study shows you raise the minimum wage, people lose jobs. At a time of rising unemployment, why in the world would you suggest that? RANGEL: Because people need to have a decent income in order to live, and that means to consume, in order to have confidence in the market. When you're talking about giving a hundred billion dollars to the top one percent, why can't you find a little compassion?

Why can't you give a little compassion for the guy that is working every day? Every time we try to increase it, you know, people would say if you do that you're going to lose your job. That was one of the arguments against slavery. That was full employment at that time. Don't tell me that the lower the salary the more people is going to be employed. And that's basically what you're saying.

CARLSON: That's in fact absolutely right.

RANGEL: You would not want any of your friends or relatives to be living in this country on minimum wage.

CARLSON: Better than not having a job at all.

RANGEL: Well, we are trying to get more people to have jobs. We are trying to stimulate the economy, and we believe we should pay for those things because notwithstanding the war people are going to get older, they're going to be needing Social Security and Medicare.

PRESS: OK, Congressman.

WATTS: OK, Charlie. You've filibustered enough. Let me address that. Let me give you my two cents. Charlie, you just said if it's not related to September 11th, we should not do it.

RANGEL: I didn't say that. I agreed with you. That was your deal with the recession as well. I disagreed with Bill. For crying out loud, take a compliment.

PRESS: Congressman. Let me ask you a question, because...

WATTS: Now Charlie and I are agreeing on something. Go to your question.

PRESS: No, take a compliment and take a break. It's not a question. It's a thank you. Thank you for joining us. Congressman Watts from Oklahoma. Charlie Rangel, we love you even when you and I disagree on a little tiny point. Talk about stimulation. Tucker Carlson and I will be back with some stimulating closing comments.


CARLSON: OK, Bill, you already know this. Let me restate the argument Democrats are making. The other guys are spendthrifts for spending the Social Security trust fund. We, on the other hand, want to spend billions on a rail link between Las Vegas and Orange County and somehow that's economic stimulation vital to the war effort. Even Charlie Rangel couldn't make that argument with a straight face.

PRESS: You're off on a side track.

CARLSON: That is the center of it.

PRESS: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Stop! That is one senator with a ridiculous idea. Let me come back to the essence of this, the essence of what is happening now. The White House has said, as part of this package we want to extend unemployment benefits, we want to give health care to the poor, we want to give a tax cut to the poor, and we're even open to raising the minimum wage.

CARLSON: What's wrong with that?

PRESS: What they're saying is, Tucker, those are all Democratic ideas.

CARLSON: From your twisted sick point of view.

PRESS: The White House has endorsed everything the Democrats wanted all along.

CARLSON: Endorsed minimum wage? What universe are you living in?

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for yet another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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