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Prescription Drug Deal Nearing?; Congress Questions U.S. Intelligence on Iraq

Aired June 6, 2003 - 16:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not here to in any way suggest that -- what went right, what went wrong. My understanding is, there is a reconciliation of viewpoints now.

ANNOUNCER: One round down, one to go, in a new fight over your taxes.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We are determined to make this issue too hot for the Republicans to handle.

ANNOUNCER: He said he'd be back. And he is. No, not with "Terminator 3," but with another hint that he'll run for governor of California.

She's a former first lady, a senator, and the author of this year's most anticipated book. But will Hillary Clinton become the topic of the movie of the week?



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Well, the new agreement to add a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program appears to be gaining support here in Washington. Just a day after the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee reached a breakthrough on the issue, the administrator of the Medicare program voiced general support for the agreement. Still, the administration and some lawmakers are not entirely happy with the details.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Snow is with me now for an update.

So, Kate, where does all this stand?

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, let's start with the House, House Republicans still working on their bill, because you have this news in the Senate yesterday.

But we're sort of waiting to hear what House Republicans will propose as far as prescription drugs for seniors. One thing we do know, though, Chairman Bill Thomas, who is the main tax-writing guy here in the House, has said that his plan will provide equal benefits, as far as paying for prescription drugs, whether a senior chooses to go to Medicare -- stay with Medicare -- or go to a new private plan under the auspices of Medicare.

That's important, because, again, that's not exactly what the White House had been looking for, nor is what the Senate is talking about doing what the White House had been looking for -- the Senate now talking about a $400 billion plan. It would provide drug coverage to seniors for $35 a month, beginning in 2006. That plan also includes a $275 deductible for seniors.

This morning, the Senate held a hearing -- the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to talk about their plan. Senator John Breaux praised it.


SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: What we have before the committee in the testimony today is on a package that combines the best of what government can do with the best of what the private sector can do.


SNOW: Not all Democrats are on board with this, though. There are some other Democrats, notably Senator Tom Daschle, the minority leader, and also Senator Kent Conrad, very upset that one of their fellow Democrats is even going along with this plan in the Senate, the Senate Finance ranking member, Max Baucus. Today, you heard Senator Conrad, Judy, have a real exchange with the administrator of Medicare.


TOM SCULLY, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAID SERVICES: Senator, I have a two-page summary. And I've had, in the last 24 hours, pretty extensive discussion with staff about what's in it. But...

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Well, that is the problem, to me, with what's happening here. We've got a two-page summary on something that's the most profound change in one of the biggest programs of the federal government that has been made in 40 years.


SNOW: Now, Democrats definitely trying to figure this one out, Judy, and play the politics. Tom Scully, by the way, who administers Medicare, who you saw there in the beginning of that sound bite, he did testify today that, generally, they're supportive. But, Judy, he also said: We, the White House, believe there are more efficient ways to go.

Meantime, back on the House side, Judy, there is speculation that perhaps the House bill will look a little bit more like what the White House wants, which is a little bit more incentive to move people into private plans -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kate, let me now ask you to turn to the other big issue or piece of legislation moving through the Congress. Last night, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to restore a child care tax credit to the president's tax cut bill. But this is still very much up in the air. You don't have agreement on that yet, do you?

SNOW: We don't have agreement yet, although, in the House, Republican aides are telling us that they think they will go ahead and do something, maybe as early as next week.

But here's the thing. Republicans, all along, have been saying that this is sort of a false issue, that these are families who often don't pay taxes in the first place. And, therefore, spending more money to give them a credit, in their view, philosophically, is not a very good idea. But we've heard a change today, Judy, from Republicans.

Judy, Republicans are now saying -- rather than saying they're going to battle this, they're saying: OK, fine. We'll go along with restoring this child tax credit increase for those lower-income families, but we want more than that, then. If Democrats are going to ask for a tax -- essentially, more tax cuts, let's give them more tax cuts.

They are now saying that they would call for maybe even a $100 billion bill that would make the child tax credit permanent, something Democrats say is not a good idea.


REP. ROBERT MATSUI (D), CALIFORNIA: The long-term consequence of these deficits are going to have the impact of increasing the interest rates. And so we have to look at this. I think we have to look at it in terms of the overall economy. But the reality is that we want a fix that I think the American public wants.


SNOW: But, Judy, of course, this could put Democrats in a bit of a pickle, if you will. One Democratic aide says, if they're forced to choose next week or the week after between restoring that child tax credit for that population of lower-income Americans or voting for this bill, they're going to have a tough choice, Judy, because they may want to vote for the bill, even though it is such a large bill -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Very much a tough spot for the Democrats, you're right, because it does add to the dollars, the cost of this whole thing.

All right, Kate Snow at the Capitol on this Friday.

Well, the left-wing activists who gathered this week for a conference of political progressives took their message to the Washington streets this afternoon. They group left their hotel headquarters and marched to the nearby Naval Observatory, home to Vice President Dick Cheney. The so-called millionaire march was meant to dramatize their belief that current policies favor the wealthy.

The role of money in politics will be front and center in early September, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the legal battle over campaign finance reform. The high court will hold a special session on September the 8th, nearly a month before the justices were scheduled to resume hearing the cases. The law, often referred to as McCain-Feingold, for its two leading sponsors, bans so- called soft money and places limits on how much an individual can give to a candidate.

Well, Chuck Todd, who is editor in chief to "The Hotline," well- known to all of us, joins us now with some "Inside Buzz."

All right, first of all, Chuck, we've got John Edwards turning 50 this weekend, celebrating by going home to North Carolina, having a town meeting. But your understanding is, he's not going to just be getting birthday greetings.

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": It won't necessarily be birthday greetings.

It's his first town hall meeting since he has announced his presidential campaign back in January. There's going to be some questions. People are going to inevitably ask him about that Senate seat. And the most interested constituent of Senator John Edwards about that Senate seat is going to be Erskine Bowles. He's a Democrat that a lot of people would like to see run for that seat, should Edwards not run for reelection in 2004 and just run for president.

It's our understanding Bowles would love to hear John Edwards do what Bob Graham did in Florida, which is maybe not necessarily say he's not running completely, but say: Any Democrats that are interested in running, maybe be prepared to run, just in case I don't run.

So we'll be listening to see if Edwards changes his tune at all on his Senate seat.

WOODRUFF: All right, from Edwards to Howard Dean. He's going to be announcing now, we're told, in his home state of Vermont, what is it, June the 23rd. But he's been out there campaigning for months. Why are they scheduling a formal announcement later on this month?

TODD: Well, it's all about buzz. Dean has been -- is fueled by buzz. And every time that tank runs low, they seem to figure out something to do. This week, it was that meet-up thing, where they had over 30,000 people to get together.

Well, this June 23 announcement, it falls one week before the end of the second quarter FEC fund-raising period. This is clearly an attempt to not only get -- generate new buzz for his campaign, but also generate a few bucks. Every other candidate that's done their little hometown rally announcement, Gephardt in particular, saw major increases in their fund-raising for that first week. So maybe that will help Dean a whole lot come June 30.

WOODRUFF: All right, the latest political buzz from Chuck Todd of "The Hotline." Great to see you this Friday.

TODD: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

Well, we have more news about Howard Dean in our Friday edition of "Campaign News Daily." New York's Democratic attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, told an upstate newspaper he doesn't think Dean can beat President Bush or win the Democratic nomination. Spitzer told the upstate "Plattsburgh Press-Republican" that Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq makes him -- quote -- "unelectable." A Dean spokesman says that Dean -- quote -- "gets a lot of points by standing on principle." Eliot Spitzer, by the way, is considering a run for New York governor in 2006.

Retired General Wesley Clark is well-known for his status as a noncandidate for the White House. A relaunched version of the Leadership for America Web site, however, shines a bright light on Clark's resume and beliefs. Clark founded the organization to promote what he calls a national dialogue about America's future.

A key political adviser to California Governor Gray Davis is joining the presidential campaign team of Senator Joe Lieberman. Political consultant Garry South is credited with orchestrating Davis' three most recent election victories. And his decision is seen as a boost to Lieberman's chances in the Golden State.

Coming up next: a new report made before the war on weapons production in Iraq. I'll talk with two members of Congress about the ongoing search in Iraq and what U.S. intelligence knew about the Iraqi arsenal.

Can the little guy make it in today's world? Not only can he make it; he can bring home the "Political Play of the Week."

And later: the Hillary Clinton story. You've heard about the book. Now get ready for the movie.


WOODRUFF: Still ahead: The California governor's race, is it a go for Arnold Schwarzenegger? He says it's up to the boss. We'll tell you who he's talking about when we return.


WOODRUFF: A report compiled last year by the Pentagon's own intelligence agency questioned whether Iraq was producing and storing new chemical weapons. The same report, however, stated -- quote -- "Iraq probably possesses chemical weapons agents in chemical munitions, possibly including artillery rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs and ballistic missile warheads." And today, the agency's director, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, said he had no doubt those weapons existed. The timing of the report was crucial, because it coincided with the Bush administration's efforts to mount a public case for urgently disarming Iraq.

Well, joining me now with their take on all this: Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and Republican Intelligence Committee member, Congressman Sherwood Boehlert.

Congresswoman Schakowsky, to you first.

If the Pentagon -- and today, you have the head of the Defense Intelligence -- or an official from the Defense Intelligence Agency -- saying, just to pull one line out of this in no way takes away our belief that Iraq had these weapons, then what's the big deal here?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Well, part of the big deal is that no weapons have been found. And the major rationale for sending our young men and women, hundreds of thousands of them, off to war was -- were the unequivocal statements made to the Congress and the public and to the United Nations that Iraq posed an imminent threat because of its weapons of mass destruction.

And I would think that the administration would also, for its own credibility and that of the United States, would want a full investigation and get to the bottom of it.

WOODRUFF: So, Congressman Boehlert, what about the point that the administration has not yet turned up these weapons, unless you count those two mobile labs the president has referred to?

REP. SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (R), NEW YORK: Well, Judy, I would point out that people are focusing some of the attention in the wrong direction. They're expecting to find 20-ton bombs that are visible from miles away, when, in fact, you could have a weapons of mass destruction in a vial no bigger than the top half of my pinkie.

There is no question in my mind, after many years on the Intelligence Committee, after reading all those reports over the years, that Iraq did and still does possess weapons of mass destruction. Keep in mind, chemical and biological agents are deadly.

WOODRUFF: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, he makes a very good point, doesn't he, that these weapons -- we're not talking about huge devices here. We're talking about something very, very small, in many instances.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, if you remember what Colin Powell presented to the United Nations, he was talking about hundreds of -- thousands and thousands of tons.

At that time, we were saying that the United Nations inspectors were just playing a cat-and-mouse game with Iraq and that we, in fact, would go ahead and find them. The disturbing thing is one of three things. Either the intelligence was faulty, the interpretation was faulty, or there in fact were weapons of mass destruction and maybe they're now in the wrong hands or left unguarded.

WOODRUFF: Well, what about that, Congressman Boehlert? Which do you think it's more likely to be, that the intelligence was wrong or that these are just somewhere, but somebody else has them?

BOEHLERT: No, I think the intelligence was accurate and I think the intelligence prompted the president to make the decision he made. And I think he made the right decision for the right reasons.

But the fact of the matter is, this wasn't a surprise attack on Iraq. We were building up to war in the international community, getting the support we needed to demonstrate that there was widespread coalition concern about the activities of Iraq and willing to take action if Iraq didn't act responsibly. So they had plenty of time for movement around.

But, once again, I focus. We're looking, in most instances, for the proverbial needle in a haystack. You had 100 inspectors in a country the size of California. It's not the easiest task in the world.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying we may never find anything?


BOEHLERT: I'm saying that that is a very real possibility.

WOODRUFF: And if that's the case, Congresswoman Schakowsky, will you and other members questioning all this be satisfied?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, first of all, there are a lot of other members on both sides of the aisle who want a full investigation.

This was war that we waged against Iraq. And it was based on the idea that these weapons of mass destruction were an imminent threat to the United States, to its neighbors, to the world. If there was another reason, then we should have debated that as a reason for going to war.

But over 100 lives have been lost of U.S. service men and women and who knows how many on the Iraqi side, based on this information that there were weapons that were ready to be used against us and the rest of the world.

WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Boehlert, very quickly, that was the rationale, was it not, that there was an imminent threat to the United States?

BOEHLERT: And I don't think there's any doubt that there was an imminent threat. And by overwhelming numbers, in both the House and Senate, on a bipartisan basis, we supported the resolution to give the president the authority to take the action he deemed necessary to protect our national security. Keep in mind, that's what the mission was, to protect our national security.

SCHAKOWSKY: If for no other reason that the veracity of the president, the intelligence community, the administration, is under question, we should, at the very least, have a full investigation.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave it there.

Congresswoman Schakowsky...

BOEHLERT: But, Judy...

WOODRUFF: Sorry. Congressman Boehlert, very quick. We've got to run.

BOEHLERT: Judy, that's our job every single day, to investigate. We're doing that in the Intelligence Committee. And we have been for months and months.

WOODRUFF: OK, we're going to have to leave it there.

Congressman Boehlert, Congresswoman Schakowsky...

SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... thank you both for joining us. We do appreciate it.

INSIDE POLITICS right back after this.


WOODRUFF: An update now on the continued speculation about the political plans of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Hollywood heavyweight was here in Washington today. And he offered this tidbit about a possible run for California governor.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: About running, before I make a decision like this, I have to speak to the almighty, my wife, Maria.



WOODRUFF: Schwarzenegger also addresses the governor's race in the July issue of "Esquire" magazine. He says -- quote -- "If there is no one I think is better, I will run."

Well, you have heard the old adage, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Our Bill Schneider joins us now with some of the big guys' play in the "Play of the Week" -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Schadenfreude, it's a wonderful German word that means joy at the misfortune of others, like the malicious pleasure you feel when you hear that a 22- year-old dot-com millionaire has gone bust. Well, this was a good week for that schadenfreude, enough for "The Play of the Week." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Oh, how the mighty have fallen: Martha Stewart, the embodiment of perfection, indicted on criminal charges.

JAMES COMEY, U.S. ATTORNEY: Martha Stewart is being prosecuted not because of who she is, but because of what she did.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's arguable. But millions of people seem to be taking pleasure in Ms. Stewart's troubles. Her crime? Arrogance. Now the little people can say, even Martha Stewart has to live by the same rules as everybody else.

KEVIN DONOVAN, FBI: The rule of fair play will govern that no one will have an unfair advantage as a result of connections or inside knowledge.

SCHNEIDER: Howell Raines, editor of the mighty "New York Times," is forced to resign, along with his managing editor. First, the con man perpetrates journalistic fraud on "The Times." Then a reporter charges that shoddy practices are common at "The Times." And the editor fails to defend his staff. Raines' crime? Arrogance. The little people rebelled against Raines' abusive management style.

JERELLE KRAUS, ART DIRECTOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Everybody was afraid. And he was the nastiest editor I've ever worked with.

SCHNEIDER: Baseball star Sammy Sosa has never been called arrogant.

SAMMY SOSA, CHICAGO CUBS: I just apologize. That's the only thing that I can say from the bottom of my heart.

SCHNEIDER: But this week, when Sosa was caught using an illegal bat, the little people wondered: Could he be arrogant, too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's powerful enough. What does he need this for?

SCHNEIDER: In Denver, however, the little people triumphed this week. They elected one of their own as mayor, a political outsider running an unconventional campaign to shape things up. John Hickenlooper's story was like their story.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), DENVER MAYORAL CANDIDATE: The fact is, I'm not a professional politician. I was a geologist until I got laid off. I've spent the last 15 years making beer, building restaurants, and creating jobs in Denver.


SCHNEIDER: A lowly brew master is raised up and the mighty are cast down, a week of triumphs for the little people, tapped off by the "Political Play of the Week." (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Rooting for the underdog is part of American politics, but so is Schadenfreude, the pleasure of seeing big shots get caught doing something wrong.

WOODRUFF: Why do we feel so good when the little guy prevails over the big guy?

SCHNEIDER: I think it's called human nature.


WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, "Political Play of the Week." That's one to remember. Thanks.

Still ahead: Hillary goes Hollywood? A new movie about the former first lady is in the works. And rumors are flying as to who might get to play her. We'll tell you who it is when we return.


WOODRUFF: Her memoirs hit the bookshelves next week. And now there is word that a TV movie is in the works about Senator Hillary Clinton.

A&E says that it will make a two-hour movie on the senator and former first lady. The cable network says the movie could premiere early next year. And who will play the senator? Well, producers say no one has been cast yet, but a source close to the production says Sharon Stone is being considered.

But you don't have to wait until next year to hear from Senator Clinton. She joins "LARRY KING LIVE" Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

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

Have a great weekend.


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