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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush Sells Tax Cut Plan in Ohio

Aired April 24, 2003 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Under the microscope in Ohio. President Bush sells tax cuts and puts the screws to a fellow Republican.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they agree that tax relief creates jobs, then why are they for a little bitty tax relief package?

ANNOUNCER: George versus George. What's the story behind the GOP Senator who is getting so much heat from the president?

Are Americans buying the Bush economic plan? Our new poll numbers suggest the public is worried, and perhaps the White House should be too.

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

I'm in our New York bureau today. We begin with the political calculations behind the president's traveling sales pitch for tax cuts. Our new poll released this hour shows a majority of Americans still do not think Mr. Bush is paying enough attention to the economy. Now that could prove especially troublesome for his reelection bid, since the majority of Americans say the economy will be more important to their vote in 2004 than the president's strong suit, national security.

The numbers suggest Mr. Bush has some serious persuading to do today in Ohio. But the state's junior senator, Republican George Voinovich, doesn't seem to be budging in his belief that the president is asking for too much.

Our White House correspondent Dana bash is in Lima, Ohio, where the president has been today. Dana, what are they thinking the people who work with the president? Are they thinking they're going to have any more success in winning over moderate Republicans like Senator Voinovich?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly are trying, Judy. That is, of course, why the president, one of the main reasons why the president is in Ohio today. And let me just explain to you why you see a tank behind me. It's an M1-A1 Abrams tank. And it is a tank that is made here in Lima, Ohio. That is what the president did today, he toured the facility that makes that tank. It is a place here in Lima, Ohio where, of course, Senator Voinovich is from.

And the president is here to, in part, talk about the fact that he wants as much as possible, a $550 billion, at least, over ten years tax cut. And although the senator was not there earlier today when the president talked about that tax cut, due to a scheduling conflict, according to his office, the president made it clear that he is putting the squeeze on Senator Voinovich, without using his name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Some in Congress say the plan is too big. Well, it seems like to me they might have explaining to do. If they agree tax relief creates jobs, then why are they for a little bitty tack relief package? If they believe tax relief is important for job creation, they ought to join us, and join this administration, and join many in Congress and have a robust package that creates enough work for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Senator Voinovich did make a point to meet briefly with the president, greeting him at his second stop to show he wasn't snubbing him. But his office notes that in the nine times that the president had been here before, Senator Voinovich had only had time to meet with the president three times. They also note that the Senator's record shows that he votes with the president 96 percent of the time.

Now, having said that, the Senator does not feel that he is swayed by the president's pressure, by what the president said here today. His office says that he is sticking by the fact that he does not believe such a large tax cut is necessary, because his top priority is deficit reduction. And that is what he is going to focus on. And his office says they are actually in talks right now with the White House about trying to find some offsets, so perhaps the Senator could have more support for a larger tax cut -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Dana, let's talk about Ohio through the prism of the 2004 presidential election. Traditionally, Republicans do well running for president in the state of Ohio. But does this mean the White House is going to make an especially hard push for that state?

BASH: Well, the White House is making a very hard push. This is the president's 10th trip here. And Ohio's 20 electoral votes are very important. And even Senator Voinovich's office tells me that's one of the reasons why they're actually happy he's here, because he needs to win this state. When you look back to the year 2000, the president only won by 4 percent. He got 50 percent to Al Gore's 46 percent. And it is well known and recited often by Republicans, when you talk to them in the state, that no Republican has lost Ohio -- excuse me, every Republican who has won Ohio has won the presidency in history, since Abraham Lincoln. Republicans point that out here time and time again. And that is why the president has come back here. It's very important to his future in 2004 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Never too soon to think about presidential politics. All right, Dana Bash, reporting for us from Lima. Thanks, Dana.

Well, let's talk a little more now about the president's tax cut plan and how the American people see it. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in Washington. First of all, Bill, new poll numbers out today. How much support is there out for the president's tax cut plan?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Limited. Especially when you consider how popular President Bush is after the war. We asked Americans nationwide, do you think the tax cuts President Bush is proposing are a good idea or a bad idea? And just 42 percent say they're a good idea. Slightly more, 47 percent, call the tax cuts a bad idea. That is a remarkable lack of public enthusiasm for what ought to be an easy sell.

WOODRUFF: Well, what explains the lack of enthusiasm?

SCHNEIDER: One word: recession. The view of the economy has become markedly more negative since the beginning of the war with Iraq. Just after the war started, 41 percent of Americans thought the economy was in recession. Now, it's up 15 points to a solid majority. Fifty six percent now believe the U.S. is in a recession. Now, wait a minute. President Bush is calling his tax cuts a jobs and growth package. People concerned about recession ought to be enthusiastic about the tax cuts.

Not so. Americans who believe the country is in recession solidly oppose the tax cuts, 57 percent. The tax cuts are more popular among people who believe we're not in a recession. That holds true even among Republicans, Republicans who think the country is in recession are split over the tax cuts. Republicans who say we're not in recession overwhelmingly favor them. So, the bad economy is undermining President Bush's argument for tax cuts. In bad times, people think the country can't afford tax cuts, particularly when they see government services like education being cut.

WOODRUFF: But Bill, does all this mean the lack of enthusiasm for tax cuts, does that in any way mean the president is in trouble for reelection next year.

SCHNEIDER: Not yet. When we asked registered voters whether they'd vote for Bush or the Democrats in 2004, Bush leads 49 to 36 percent. That's not quite a majority.

Now, how can Bush even be ahead if Americans believe the economy is in recession and if, as you reported earlier, the economy outweighs national security in importance? President Bush has a solid lead among national security voters, nearly 50 points ahead. He trails by about 15 points among voters who say their top issue is the economy. The economy does not pay off for Democrats nearly as much as national security pays off for President Bush.

WOODRUFF: Hmm, OK. Bill Schneider, reporting from Washington. Thanks, Bill.

Over on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are watching President Bush twisting arms over taxes, and they say they don't like what they see. Is Mr. Bush declaring a new war against Congress?

Our Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, is on the Hill. John, what are they saying?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's certainly what some people are saying up here, Judy. George Voinovich is the one feeling the heat today from the White House. But he is certainly not the only one. The White House and various administration officials have been barnstorming the states of wavering senators for the past two weeks. And, not surprisingly, some of those senators don't like it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE (R) RHODE ISLAND: George Voinovich has been around a long time. He was mayor of Cleveland, of course, governor of Ohio. He's in his second term, I believe, as a senator. And he's a revered politician in that state. And he's very responsible. He knows about making budgets, meeting budgets, as a mayor and as governor. And none of us like to raise taxes. We don't like taxes. But at the same time, we have to make sure we're doing the responsible thing and not getting into these tremendous deficits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, the White House is also targeting Democrats who they believe could potentially support the president's tax cut. White House officials have made several trips to the state of Louisiana, home both to John Breaux, a moderate Republican who voted for the tax cut last time and Mary Landrieu, who voted for the last tax cut as well. Also, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is the only Democrat in the Senate who has said that he is willing to vote for a tax cut of as high as $550 billion, as long as he likes the details of that tax cut, has also been feeling the pressure.

Senator Nelson tells CNN that what's happened is he's received calls from prominent business leaders from Nebraska and officials with the Chamber of Commerce out there, saying that they have had calls from the White House telling them to pressure Senator Nelson to vote for this tax cut. Senator Nelson doesn't like it and neither does Senator Breaux.

Listen to what John Breaux had to say to the "New Orleans Times Picayune," his home state newspaper. He said -- quote -- "Instead of going to war with Congress, we should try to reach an agreement. We went to war with Iraq, we shouldn't go to war with Congress." That's Breaux's message to the president.

Ben Nelson's message to the president is similar. He say, "Don't work on me, work with me." Both senators visibly angry at the pressure they've been receiving from the White House. But, Judy, remember, the president did this to pass his last tax cut and, at the end of the day, he had 12 Democrats voting with him. Of course, there may have been a very high price to pay last time, because you also remember, at the end of the day, Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party, in part because of the pressure he had to vote for the tax cut.

WOODRUFF: Yes, so very much now the spotlight is on these Democrats, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans to see whether they're going to bend under all this White House pressure. It's a fascinating story. All right, Jon Karl reporting for us from the Capitol. Thanks, Jon.

Still ahead, a leading Democrat offers his spin on the tax cut debate and how Republican bickering may help his party.

Who is slamming Senator Rick Santorum now? We'll have another follow-up on his controversial comments about homosexuality.

Plus, federal investigators are following the money. Democrat John Edwards' presidential campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the president makes the case for his tax cut in Ohio, Democrats continue to argue that the proposed cuts would benefit only the wealthiest Americans.

Among those not convinced by the president's plan is New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine. He's with me now from our bureau in Los Angeles. Senator, the president today saying you've got to pass these tax cuts, Congress. This is going to grow the economy. It's going to create jobs. And he went on to say, this is good for our country. How can you disagree?

SEN. JON CORZINE (D) NEW JERSEY: Well, first of all, running budget deficits of $450 billion-plus, I don't think is good for our country. It's not good for your kids. And I don't think it's actually good for growing the economy. It actually puts us in a situation where the government's competing for capital in our capital markets. I think that's a bad idea and, particularly, the dividend exclusion which I see and hear people say there's very little growth that comes from that, particularly in the short run, which is where our economy is in sour shape today.

WOODRUFF: But Senator, you know the president has a very high popularity rating coming off the war in Iraq. He's doing everything in his power to win over moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans. Are you worried that that deal struck in the Senate to keep the tax cuts to $350 billion may not hold?

CORZINE: I think that the American people and, certainly, I think most of the folks that look at this seriously in the Congress can differentiate the credibility that the president rightfully has with regard to national security, and, say, what we have going on with regard to our economy. Our economic security is really a different horse. The fact is, we've lost 2.5 million jobs under this president's administration.

We've already had a $1.3 trillion tax cut, and it hasn't led to the kind of results that the president predicted and his administration did. As a matter of fact, he had to change his whole economic team. So, I think, you know, there's dissonance between what the proposal says it will do, what previously policies that very much like this accomplished. And I think that coalition that supported the $350 billion number will hold together.

WOODRUFF: So the fact that Republicans have a pretty good history of closing ranks when push come to shove, you don't think they're going to do that this time?

CORZINE: Well, I saw Chairman Grassley straight on the floor of the United States Senate that $350 billion was the number. And I think that's going to be a hard pledge to back away from, particularly since he's in chairman of the tax writing committee and finance.

WOODRUFF: Another question, just quickly, Senator. Rick Santorum, Senator Santorum's comments about homosexuality, equating it to incest, bigamy, polygamy, and so forth. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which you're the chair of, has called for Senator Santorum to step down from his leadership position. Is that what you're calling for?

CORZINE: I think this is a very divisive and unfortunate remark. I think I would agree with Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chafee who would say that is not representative of a lot of Republicans and really a leadership position in the Senate. I think it's unfortunate. And on that basis, I think everybody would be well-served if he stepped aside from that leadership position.

WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Jon Corzine joining us. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, joining us from California today. We thank you so much. It's good to see you.

CORZINE: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, one of two Republican Senators who oppose the size of the Bush tax cut plan is, as we've been telling you all along, Ohio's own George Voinovich.

CNN's Bruce Morton reports that Voinovich is a loyal Republican, but people should not be surprised to see him taking a stand for a balanced budget.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican George Voinovich wants to limit President Bush's tax cut? Well, of course he does. He's been trying to get governments out of debt his whole political life. Cleveland in the 1970s, "the mistake by the lake," people called it, a textbook of urban troubles. Finally, in 1978, under mayor, now Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland went into default, couldn't pay its bills.

The heavily Democratic city elected Republican Voinovich mayor in 1979. And in ten years, he turned it around. Fixed its budget, started a renaissance, that today includes the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, and a lake you can swim in. Elected governor in 1990, the first thing he learned was the deficit was worse than he'd known, a billion dollars. My reaction, he said later, here we go again. And he did go raise taxes, cut spending and after two terms, left a solvent, thriving state.

Supported the contract with America in 1995, it called for a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets except in wartime. The president, of course, wants a big tax cut and will accept the deficit that comes with it. Voinovich, acting on principle, trying to cut the cut. Still happens here, sometimes.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, the president talked about more than just tax cuts during his trip to Ohio. Up next, what the president had to say about Iraq. And how Americans view the threat of terrorism now that Saddam Hussein is out of the picture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: According to the results of our new CNN/"USA Today" poll, many Americans agree with comments by President Bush that America is safer from terrorism due to the war in Iraq. Just 34 percent of respondents say they are worried about becoming a victim of terrorism. Now that is the lowest number registered on our poll since the September 11, 2001, attacks. When asked if they believe the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer, 58 percent said yes, 33 percent said no.

Checking the headlines now in the "Campaign News Daily," the Justice Department is investigating donations to the John Edwards campaign by employees of a Little Rock law firm. Published reports say the investigation is related to recent claims by a clerk at Turner and Associates. She says she was told that she would be reimbursed by the firm if she donated money to Edwards. Now, reimbursements of this kind would be illegal. The Edwards campaign itself has not been linked or accused of any wrongdoing.

Meantime, Senator Edwards has picked up the endorsement of former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes. Barnes tells the "Atlanta Journal- Constitution" that he thinks Edwards brings a fresh perspective and, in his words, is -- quote -- "electable."

Fourteen sites are in the running to host the 2004 presidential debate. The commission in charge of holding the debate has released the list of hopefuls. Twelve universities or colleges are among those in the mix.

In these tough economic times, question, did a group of reporters toss softballs at Commerce Secretary Donald Evans today? Coming up, we'll tell you about a briefing that was all in good fun.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It may not have been the toughest crowd of reporters Commerce Secretary Don Evans ever faced, but it probably was the youngest. On this take your child to work day, Evans held a mock news conference with the children of Commerce Department employees. We don't know if they got any scoops from the Secretary, but they did get free disposable cameras to snap his pictures. And I bet a couple of them asked him some tough questions. I bet a few of them want to be reporters.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff in New York today.

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