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Upstager in Chief; Medicare Grudge Match

Aired June 19, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The upstager in chief: President Bush works to claim political ground a day before the Democrats.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's what we call the entrepreneurial spirit.

ANNOUNCER: A Medicare grudge match? Some conservatives are lashing out at a bipartisan plan and its Kennedy connection.

While the Incredible Hulk wreaks havoc on the big screen, a little guy with a surprising punch is walloping some big names in Washington.


ERIC BANA, ACTOR: I don't think you're going to like me when I'm angry.




KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

Just a day after President Bush tried to present a united front on Medicare reform, some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate are breaking ranks.

As our Jonathan Karl reports, conservatives are growing more suspicious by the day about a bill endorsed by Ted Kennedy, even though the White House is behind the measure, too.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Bush administration is ecstatic about what the Senate is doing on prescription drugs.

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: From the administration point of view, that we couldn't be more pleased in the progress that's being made. KARL: As Congress rushes to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, conservatives are staging a revolt, saying the Senate bill does not do enough to reform Medicare.

In a letter to the president, 27 Republican senators urged the White House to insist on changes in the bill to restrain the growing cost of Medicare. "If not," the senators wrote, "we fear this legislation will instead do harm to Medicare and to the health of seniors over the long term." The conservative Heritage Foundation calls the Senate bill an impending disaster made possible by Republicans who are too eager to score a political victory on an issue that usually favors Democrats.

ROBERT MOFFITT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It looks like what you're seeing on the part of the Senate leadership and the White House is a headlong retreat from serious Medicare reform and an expansion of the kind of government health policy that Senator Kennedy would endorse.

KARL: Senator Ted Kennedy's strong support for the bill has a lot of conservatives nervous. They argue, the bill will lead to the biggest expansion of the federal government since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs in the 1960s and end up costing much more than the current estimate of $400 billion.

But the White House defends the Senate plan as a compromise that does reform Medicare by giving seniors the option of enrolling in private health insurance.

THOMPSON: You can find fault with it. You can find out that it's not as perfect as what we would like to do if we could develop our own plan. It's not as competitive as what the president's principles were. But it is a competitive model. It's a step in that direction. And it's a giant step.


KARL: Now, conservatives acknowledge and the conservatives in the Senate acknowledge that this bill has enough support to pass in the Senate, but they have a two-part strategy for trying to change it.

First, they believe that they can threaten to delay this bill so it will not be passed by July 4, a very significant goal of both the president and Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist. They can delay it, unless they get promises that it will be changed. The second part of the strategy is to wait until the House has also passed their bill, which they like a lot more. When the House and the Senate come together to reconcile their differences, conservatives believe that is their best chance to get a bill much more close to what they would like to see -- Kate.

SNOW: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Some Senate Democrats also have been pressing for the changes in the prescription drug bill. One Democratic-sponsored amendment failed by a decisive 58-37 vote. Today, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle publicly expressed frustration that five Democrats, including three presidential candidates, missed that vote.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: First of all, the 37 votes was affected by the number of absentees. And so it would have been a good number beyond that, had all of our caucus been present. We don't know whether or not these -- some of these amendments are going to pass, but we still think it's important for Democrats to make the record, to be as precise as we can be about what exactly we would do were we in the majority.


SNOW: The three '04 Democrats who missed yesterday's vote, for the record, were Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and John Kerry. Daschle's spokesman says they would have been asked to return to the Hill to vote if the measure had a chance of surviving.

President Bush took his reelection bid on the road again today, talking up the economy and his agenda in Minnesota. Mr. Bush revived his pitch for a broader child tax credit.


BUSH: Congress is debating further relief for family with children, further extension of the child credit. I urge them to complete the work on this legislation soon and get it to my desk.


SNOW: Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is with Mr. Bush in Fridley, Minnesota.

Dana, it's significant, isn't it, that the president pushing, mentioning the child tax care credit?


And, as you well know, this whole issue has become an incredibly -- a real hot-button issue in Congress and in politics in general. Of course, the Senate -- so much so that the Senate voted recently to correct it, to vote to allow low-income Americans to receive an increase in the child care tax credit. The House also voted to increase it, but it was attached to larger tax cuts unlikely to actually get through Congress.

So, yesterday, Senate leadership aides let us know that their Democratic leaders, Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi, in a private breakfast meeting with President Bush, they were urging him to come out publicly and to really get involved and push this through to make sure that it happens, that it doesn't get stuck in Congress. Ari Fleischer, at the briefing with reporters yesterday, was asked a number of times why President Bush, when he talks about all of the things he says he has done for the economy and when he pushes his domestic agenda, he doesn't mention it.

Today, for the first time, as we just heard, he did mention it -- Kate.

SNOW: The trouble is, nobody can figure out how to get it done.

Let me ask you about politics, Dana. Is there any fuss in Minnesota on the part of Democrats that Mr. Bush is there just one day before all the Democratic state chairmen are going to be in town and most of the candidates?


BASH: Yes, and the candidates, too. Exactly. There actually is.

Well, first of all, Minnesota is, of course, a battleground state. It is the sixth time the president is coming to Minnesota since he has been in office. He just lost by 2 percentage points to Al Gore in 2000. And earlier today, I did speak with the chairman of the DFL, Mike Erlandson. The DFL is the Democrat Party here in Minnesota.

And he said today that he believes that the president came here not just to tout his economic plan, but because he knows and the White House knows that there is this large meeting here in the next couple of days of the state party chairmen. They're getting together and they're going to greet probably a number of the candidates who are vying for -- the Democratic candidates -- vying for Mr. Bush's job.

And he said -- point blank, he said -- quote -- "The White House can't stand not to be in every political story" So the White House, you should know, Kate, for its part, they are dismissing this whole notion. They are saying that the reason why President Bush is here is because Minnesota is an important state. He has been here a number of times. And it is also important because this particular company that he spoke to, a small business, helps him to anecdotally explain why he believes his tax cut will help small businesses and will help create jobs -- Kate.

SNOW: Dana Bash in Minnesota with the president -- thanks, Dana.

Well, the '04 Democrats aren't exactly falling all over one another, though, to appear at tomorrow's meeting of state Democratic chairs in Minnesota. Only Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton are scheduled to be there. Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, and John Kerry plan to appear via satellite, due in part to votes on Capitol Hill.

The state party chairs may be thrilled to see Dean, though. CNN's political unit surveyed the state chairs and found that Dean is generating the most buzz. We'll have a full report on our survey tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

While Democrats are scrambling behind the scenes to raise campaign cash, President Bush is getting ready for another shot of quick political money. As his two-week fund-raising blitz continues, Mr. Bush heads to Georgia tomorrow and the plantation home of oilman and campaign money man Mercer Reynolds. Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" is following the money for us.

Ron, it seems like the Republicans are just having a banner week. All they have to -- all the president has to do is show up and he gets millions of dollars.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Unprecedented millions, Kate.

And, in fact, when we're really going to see the impact of this money is a year from now. Here's the nightmare scenario that Democrats are looking at. All of their candidates have accepted public financing for the presidential primaries next year, which means they're going to be limited to spending about $50 million up until their convention next summer.

By the time they get through the primaries, it's likely that whoever wins in a very contested race is going to be almost broke. On the other hand, President Bush is now raising somewhere -- you pick the number -- $175 million, $200 million, $225 million, that he can then spend all the way until his convention next September without opposition.

The prospect is looming that Democrats will be enormously, massively unprecedentedly, outspent on television through next spring and summer. And this is really becoming a growing concern for the campaigns, for the Democratic National Committee, and for the interest groups in the party.

SNOW: Ron, how much of it is because of the new campaign finance law?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's a big part of it, in two respects.

First, it's helping Bush, because the contribution limits for individual contributions were raised to $2,000. That's one of the reasons why his campaign can talk about going from raising $100 million, roughly, in 2000, to $200 million in 2004. Even more important, though, is the ban on soft money. In the past, when the nominees had faced this kind of problem of being out of money until the convention, the national parties have stepped in.

The Democratic National Committee might be buying television ads to offset what Bush is doing next spring. They are going to be severely hamstrung, because they are heavily reliant on soft money, which is now banned. So Democrats are really getting it from both ends here and could, again, face a very difficult spring, compounded by the changes in the campaign finance law that many of them promoted only a year ago.

SNOW: Ron Brownstein watching the money for us -- thank you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you. SNOW: Still ahead: Iowa Senator Tom Harkin shares his insight on the Democratic presidential field and how the contenders are faring in his pivotal home state.

The official report is in on the surge in the Hispanic population, but are the numbers translating into political clout?

Plus: Get real. A former reality show figure mulls a political campaign.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


SNOW: While lawmakers debate how best to provide seniors with a prescription drug plan in Congress, a new survey shows 63 percent of seniors prefer to get their health insurance coverage through the existing Medicare program, rather than through new private plans. But there is a generation gap. Among younger Americans, 60 percent would prefer to get coverage through private plans instead of Medicare.

Coming up next: Is Ralph Nader thinking of plunging into presidential politics once again? I'll have the latest from the campaign trail.

INSIDE POLITICS is back in 60 seconds.


SNOW: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will be the featured guest at Senator Tom Harkin's Hear it From the Heartland forum on Saturday. The forum Mason City is Senator Harkin's fourth in a series featuring Democratic presidential candidates.

Senator Harkin joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator Harkin, thanks for being with us.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Thanks, Kate.

SNOW: You're getting a lot of attention for this. Why are you doing this? You have said you want air the -- get the candidates out there, let them talk to Iowans. Is it about that or is it also somewhat about getting some attention for yourself?

HARKIN: No, it's actually about ensuring that our candidates get sufficient time to get their message out and respond to questions, so that first the people who are attending the Iowa caucuses have a better idea about where these candidates stand on the issues and where they want to take us in the future.

But it's not just for Iowa. Because C-SPAN carries these live and rebroadcasts them, it's a way for each of the candidates to get his or her message out nationwide.

SNOW: The people in the audience, though, are all from Iowa. What's -- you've done three so far. What's the most popular question?

HARKIN: Well, we've tried to -- I've tried to make sure that the audiences -- I don't plant the question. We just call them randomly.

But I ask people to think about what's really important and what's going to be important next year, which I think is going to be the economy. If it was the economy, stupid, in 1992, it is the economy, stupid, in spades right now: three million jobs lost. So when we get into these forums, I think the most popular questions are those that deal, basically, with the economy and how we're going to get the economy moving again.

And I would say a very close second to that is health care and what they're going to do about health insurance, about Medicare. And right after that, I would say, would be education.

SNOW: You've got Senator John Kerry this Saturday in Iowa. He said yesterday -- and got a lot of attention for saying -- the president misled every one of us, he said, in talking about building an international coalition to go into Iraq.

Senator Kerry has, in the past, of course, supported the president. He voted for the Iraq resolution. How do you think that's going to play with your -- with Iowans? And with you, how does that play?

HARKIN: Well, I think John Kerry is on to something here, because someone didn't tell us the facts. Now, I don't know whether it was the president. Or did the CIA mislead him? Somebody is misleading someone here, because I don't think the American people got all of the facts.

And I don't think even we, last fall, in the Senate, voting on this, had all the facts. And so I think there's some accountability that needs to be done here.

SNOW: Does Senator Kerry need to be strong about that this weekend? Because he's sort of played it both ways.

HARKIN: Well, I think everyone needs to be strong about this. I think we as Democrats need to hold President Bush accountable for the misrepresentations that were made about Saddam Hussein and about Iraq.

SNOW: Are you screening these candidates, Senator, so you can make your own personal endorsement?

HARKIN: Well, I have said that I'm not endorsing anyone right now. I have no favorites. I'm being an honest broker.

I just wanted to set up a structure to give the candidates enough time to get their message out. I'm opposed to these cattle calls, where you get all of them together. They get five minutes. And so I wanted to give them enough time to connect with the audience, to connect with voters, and get their message out.

SNOW: What question, finally, do you want to see Senator Kerry handle this weekend?

HARKIN: Well, I personally will want to know what his views are on the economy, what's his economic plan to get our jobs back again, and how we get out of the deficit crisis that we're in, in America. How are we going to rebuild our country and provide jobs for our people in the future?

SNOW: Senator Tom Harkin, thanks for joining us today. Appreciate it.

HARKIN: Thanks, Kate.

SNOW: Good luck this weekend.

HARKIN: Thanks, Kate.

SNOW: Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily": Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader is flirting with another run for the White House. But might he run as a Republican? If Nader doesn't get the Green Party nod again, he's quoted as saying he might choose to run as an independent or even a Republican, pitting him against President Bush in the primary. Nader asks, wouldn't that be interesting? Stay tuned.

Retired General Wesley Clark met behind closed doors today with leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers. Was the POW (sic) here in Washington for a bid for campaign support? Clark said he still hasn't decided weather to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

And a former reality TV figure reportedly is considering a run for Congress. Sean Duffy appeared on MTV's "The Real World Boston." "The Wisconsin Daily Herald" reports he's considering a challenge to Democratic Congressman David Obey. When contacted by INSIDE POLITICS, Duffy had no comment.

The nation's largest minority and the 2004 election: Do Hispanics now have more political power than African-Americans? We'll hear from our Bill Schneider just ahead.


SNOW: For the first time since the government started counting, Hispanics -- African-Americans, rather, have been pushed aside as the nation's largest minority.

Our senior analyst, Bill Schneider, takes a look at the political situation with minorities, the impact on next year's election.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It's official. The census has declared that Hispanics are now the nation's largest minority, edging out African-Americans.

Out of nearly 290 million Americans in 2002, 38.8 million were Hispanic and 38.3 million were African-American. So do Hispanics now have more political clout than blacks? Not quite, because the Hispanic vote has yet to be mobilized.

Take the state of California. An estimated one-third of California residents were Hispanic last year. But Hispanics made up only 10 percent of the voters. Why the falloff? Nationwide, more than one in three Hispanics are under 18, according to the census, not old enough to vote. Many are noncitizens, not eligible to vote.

African-Americans have been mobilized. The Democratic Party did that 40 years ago, when it embraced civil rights. In the last presidential election, African-American voters edged out Hispanics 10 percent to 7 percent. Blacks voted 10-1 for Al Gore over George W. Bush. That's mobilization. Hispanics also voted for Gore, but not as solidly. More than a third of Hispanics voted for Bush.

MARIA CARDONA, NEW DEMOCRAT NETWORK: I would certainly describe Latinos in this country as a swing vote.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans are determined not to write Hispanics off, the way Republicans wrote off European immigrants in the early 20th century, and suffered for it. Most Hispanics do have conservative views on social and cultural issues. But most Hispanics, like earlier waves of immigrants, look to government to deliver.

CARDONA: Democrats really win on the issues of education, on the issues of Social Security, Medicare, on the issues of really trying to give them the tools that they need to economically survive.

SCHNEIDER: For Hispanics, education is a top issue. And that's where Democrats believe they've got Bush cornered.

CARDONA: He promised to bring to this community more resources for public schools. And with Latinos, it really comes down to the resources. It's, show me the money with our community.


SCHNEIDER: Democrats are in a bind, too. They want to be the party of fiscal responsibility, as Tom Harkin just said. Well, it's hard to say "We'll show you the money" when there isn't much money -- Kate.

SNOW: Bill Schneider, thanks.

Still ahead: A little guy makes a big hit at a White House barbecue.


SNOW: CNN has learned that President Bush will name Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan at as the new White House spokesman. McClellan will replace Ari Fleischer when he leaves the post on July 14. McClellan also worked for Bush during his time as governor of Texas. And, finally, it's no secret here in Washington that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has picked a few political fights with President Bush, but the two seemed all smiles at a barbecue at the White House last night when DeLay thrust his young grandson into the president's arms. But perhaps the kid knew about the political tensions, because he suddenly backhanded the president in the nose. Mr. Bush kept smiling the whole time. And while it might seem that that was just coincidence, guess what? When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held DeLay's grandson, he, too, got a bop in the face.

And one thing I wanted to correct. I misspoke a little bit earlier. General Wesley Clark, of course, is not a former POW. He is the former NATO supreme commander.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Kate Snow.


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