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President Bush Pushes Medicare Reform; Can Howard Dean Overcome Weekend Stumble?

Aired June 25, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: President Bush urges a meeting of the minds on Medicare, even as some members of his own party stand in his way.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever amount of energy and effort is required from the White House, we'll provide it.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I refused to change my view. And, as it turned out, I was right.

ANNOUNCER: Democratic president hopeful Howard Dean defends his anti-war, anti-Bush world view. Did he make up for a weekend stumble on national television?

The Gray mood in California: How widespread is the feeling that Governor Davis should go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We elect them. I think we can kick them out if they don't do their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this whole thing just smacks of some sort of right-wing campaign.



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

It's getting down to the wire in Washington's race to pass prescription drug benefits for senior citizens. President Bush is using his powers of persuasion today to try to rally undecided lawmakers behind the bill.

But, as our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reports, Mr. Bush still is facing resistance from the left and from the right.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Armed with whistles, liberal Democrats and their allies in organized labor are making a last-ditch effort to derail the Republican-backed prescription drug bill. REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: They are trying to serve laced Kool-Aid to the American people to kill Medicare.

KARL: But as the president shores up support for his drug plan, he is also fending off attacks from conservative Republicans. With a vote expected as early as tomorrow, the president still needs more votes to pass the bill in the House.

BUSH: Whatever amount of energy and effort is required from the White House, we'll provide it to get a bill done this summer.

KARL: The problem for the president is stiff resistance by conservative Republicans in the House, who are reluctant to support the creation of a big new $400 billion federal program without first restraining the cost of Medicare.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: And as I raised with the president myself, many of us are still struggling with the fact that this bill contains a universal drug benefit that will be an enormous new entitlement, an enormous new obligation of the federal government that our children and grandchildren will have to bear.

KARL: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been pressuring fellow Republicans to support the president on the issue. He acknowledges it is not an easy task.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is probably one of the toughest, most complex pieces of legislation that we've tried to put together in our lifetime.

KARL: As for Democrats, they're adamantly opposed to the House version of the bill, which includes a greater involvement of private insurance companies in providing Medicare coverage. But most liberals don't like the bipartisan Senate bill either, even if their friend Ted Kennedy supports it.

GERALD MCENTEE, PRESIDENT, AFSCME: Any Democratic senator supporting Senator Kennedy and/or supporting this legislation, we think are dead wrong.


KARL: At a meeting that ended less than an hour ago at the White House, the president, the vice president and the health and human services secretary all met with about a dozen House conservatives that have serious concerns about the bill.

According to somebody at the meeting, the president was forceful and animated. But this conservative Republican told CNN that he believes that he is still not convinced. He said he came to Washington to cut government, not to make it bigger -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl reporting on this from the Capitol.

And now we want to turn to the White House part of this story. To get this far in the push for Medicare reform, President Bush has had to give a little. Some would say he has given a lot.

As our senior White House correspondent, John King, reports, Mr. Bush hopes to get something back on Election Day.


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Face- to-face lobbying is part of an urgent White House effort to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

BUSH: We're making great progress on this issue. We have an historic opportunity to seize the moment and get a good bill done.

KING: Congress has been debating the issue for years. Mr. Bush is right to say adding a drug benefit would make history. But what the president doesn't say is that, to get a deal, he is once again making major compromises, even though his fellow Republicans control Congress.

He wanted, for example, a more generous drug benefit for seniors who agreed to join managed-care programs. But Congress isn't going along. Mr. Bush also had to give a lot to get another tax cut this year. He initially proposed $726 billion in new tax cuts and, in the end, had to settle for less than half that, $350 billion. A tiny Republican Senate majority is the biggest reason Mr. Bush must compromise to achieve major goals.

There have been some high-profile disagreements with House Republicans as well. Mr. Bush, for example, asked the House to quickly embrace a $10 billion Senate plan to expand a child tax credit. "Ain't going to happen" was the retort from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who favors a more generous package.

REP. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Sometimes families don't always get along, even though they love each other. And so, for the most part, it has been a happy family. But now and again, we'll have our spats.

KING: Like presidents before him, Mr. Bush is quick to take credit even after major compromises. He repeatedly mocked calls for a $350 billion tax cut as itty-bitty, then signed it into law with great fanfare.

JOEL JOHNSON, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE SENIOR AIDE: The most powerful political weapon in a president's arsenal is the Rose Garden. And that Rose Garden signing ceremony says, this issue is mine.

KING: But getting credit for compromise can cut both ways. The former President Bush broke his no-new-taxes pledge in a major budget deal, and some conservatives never forgave him.

In 1996, liberals revolted when President Clinton signed major welfare changes drafted mostly by Republicans. But Mr. Clinton called it a signature achievement and he coasted to reelection.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: And now some conservatives say this President Bush is giving away too much to get a Medicare drug benefit, so that he can tell elderly voters next year that he has delivered on a major promise from campaign 2000, even if the final product is not exactly what he promised back then -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Still a lot of people unhappy about the way this thing is going. Very interesting to see where it will end up. All right, John, at the White House, thanks very much.

White House hopeful Howard Dean came out swinging at President Bush again today, but the Democratic candidate's foreign policy offensive may have been an attempt at political defense as well.

Here's our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, is that what's going on here?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, remember, Howard Dean has been the anti-war candidate, which does put him in a vulnerable position. He made it to the upper tier of '04 candidates off his operation to that war. And now that he has people's attention, he made a major foreign policy speech in Washington to say, A, he was right on the war.


DEAN: I questioned the judgment of those who led us into this conflict, this unfinished conflict, that has made us, on balance, not more secure, but less so. And although we may have won the war, we are failing to win the peace.


CROWLEY: And, B, though against war in Iraq, Dean is, in principle, just as willing as the next guy to pull the trigger.


DEAN: In November of 2004, the American people will seek a president who is prepared to use our brave and remarkable armed forces, as I would, to defend against any actual or imminent threat to ourselves or to our friends and allies.


CROWLEY: It is hot up there in the upper tier. And Dean is feeling it. Of all the top '04 players, he has the least amount of foreign policy experience and is the only one without national political experience.

The former Vermont government is also worse for the wear after stumbling through or not knowing to some of the military questions fired at him on the Sunday talk show "Meet the Press." And his anti- war stance, which made him a hit with Democratic activists, made him a big target with his more hawkish rivals. They noticed, when Dean told a New Hampshire audience: "We have to take a different approach to diplomacy. We won't always have the strongest military."

Looking through the prism of endless time, Dean is probably right -- politically, big mistake. Remember, this is the first post-9/11 presidential election. Only tough guys need apply. The Democratic Party is anxious to show it can be trusted to keep the nation safe and strong. Republicans always do better in polls on that question.

So the Kerry camp said Dean's suggestion of a second-rate U.S. military showed that Dean lacks the credentials for the top job. Dean's Washington speech is pushback, Judy, back to the notion that he is the wrong guy at the wrong time. His opposition to a popular war, Dean argues, is in fact an act of courage, just the sort of credential a commander in chief needs -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's that. And he's also getting a lot of attention this week, both from the announcement and the speech today. And if you're running for president, all that is...

CROWLEY: It never hurts.

WOODRUFF: That's right. None of it hurts.

Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

We have more Howard Dean developments in our "Campaign News Daily." The Dean campaign is running a new TV ad designed to reach potential Iowa caucus voters. The ad features Dean looking straight into the camera outlining his views on the war in Iraq and other issues. It is part of a $300,000 ad buy in the Hawkeye State. The spot will run, we are told, through July 2.

The online Democratic primary sponsored by has run into a few technical glitches. The site crashed for more than an hour yesterday. As a result, voting will be extended about 75 minutes past tonight's original midnight deadline. As of this morning, about 210,000 votes have been cast for the various Democratic candidates. The winner will be announced on Friday.

This evening here in Washington, seven of the nine Democratic hopefuls will attend a fund-raising dinner hosted by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. All of the candidates except for John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are expected to attend the event, which will be emceed by comedian and author Al Franken.

CNN has learned that the Draft Wesley Clark campaign is set to announce its first field office in New Hampshire. The group calls the July 4 opening of the office a -- quote -- "big step." Retired General Wesley Clark has said he is considering a run for the White House. He will be a guest on "CROSSFIRE" right after INSIDE POLITICS.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS right now:


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Let's agree where we agree. And then let's move on to those other areas where we might agree in the future.


WOODRUFF: How much is Senator Tom Daschle willing to work with Republicans? I'll talk to the minority leader about some of the topics of debate on Capitol Hill.

And later: The beat goes on for two members of Congress.


WOODRUFF: Another interest group is taking aim at the White House environmental record. The National Resources Defense Council claims the Bush administration is not doing enough to reduce dangerous emissions from the nation's power plants.


NARRATOR: They're not weapons, but they cause mass destruction. We have the technology to stop it, but the power companies won't. If that's not a cause for high alert, what is?


WOODRUFF: As we have reported, the League of Conservation Voters yesterday gave the Bush White House an F on the environment. A White House spokesman today blasted that characterization, pointing out that the league's Web site also includes a plea for donations. In the spokesman's words -- quote -- "This has nothing to do with helping us build upon progress in making our water and land cleaner and everything to do with an opportunity to raise money for a special interest group."

We're back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: With me now to talk a little about Medicare and the other major issues on Capitol Hill is the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle.

Senator, thank you for being with us.

DASCHLE: You're welcome, Judy.

WOODRUFF: You were described as -- quote -- "apoplectic" when you discovered that Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat, had basically signed on to the Republican Medicare prescription drug plan. But now you seem to be more supportive of what he and the Republicans are doing. And yet you still have this big gap between private and government prescription plans.

Where do you come down on this right now?

DASCHLE: Well, Judy, apoplectic wouldn't describe my reaction at all. I'm not sure where that came from. Obviously, this is not a bill we would write. We would do it a lot differently. We would make it simpler. We would make it more meaningful to most seniors. But we have got to start somewhere. We're not in control. The Republicans have the majority and we have to realize that as we attempt to attain what we can. And that's what we're doing here.

We have improved the bill by adding access to generic drugs, by allowing seniors to reimport drugs from Canada. So I think we're making some progress and making this a better bill, but we have a long way to go. At the end of the day, I think most of us are going to support it, in part because it's a start, albeit very shaky. It's something we have to get done.

WOODRUFF: But the fact that you and other Democrats, including Senator Kennedy, have now come on board, does this not effectively take an issue off the table for your Democratic Party and hand one to the president when he's running for reelection next year?

DASCHLE: Not at all.

In fact, if anything, I think it gives us an even better opportunity to say, look, we passed something, but it is far from where it ought to be. You're going to hear from seniors all over this country, Judy. They're not going to like a lot what has been passed in this bill. And it's going to be Democrats leading the way to improve it, to change, to make it more meaningful to seniors in the future. That gives us the issue. It doesn't lock us out.

WOODRUFF: All right, let me turn now to taxes. And that is the child tax credit. This is something that -- you have now written to the president. It seemed to be moving quickly through both houses in conference. It's now stuck in the conference committee. You've written to the president today, you and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Have you heard back from the president? You're urging him to get it moving through.

DASCHLE: We haven't heard yet.

We asked the president to weigh in a couple weeks ago. He did. And it made a difference. I think that was really what generated the kind of interest on the part of the House, especially, to act. Now, what you have got is both the House and the Senate on record in support of our effort to provide meaningful, extended child care tax credit assistance.

Beginning July 1, everybody else is going to get a tax credit. Those with incomes below $26,000 will not. That's 12 million children. We don't see any reason why we can't get this done before we leave. And that was our message to the president.

WOODRUFF: But you still have this huge difference between the $10 billion in the Senate version and more than $80 billion in the House version.

DASCHLE: But, Judy, the House passed a resolution saying, let's take the Senate language. They passed it overwhelmingly. By I think about a 4-1 vote, the House now is on record as accepting the Senate language.

So I think we're much closer than most people realize. It takes a nudge from the president, show some real leadership here on the part of the administration. We can get this done.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly -- this is INSIDE POLITICS -- where do the Democrats stand in the Senate races coming up next year? You have got your own reelection to worry about. What about the Senate races overall?

DASCHLE: I think we're going to be very competitive.

As we look around the country, we're very encouraged by the current situation involving most of our incumbents, as well as a lot of challenges in states sometimes that we are not always very active and competitive. So we're excited about the coming cycle. And I think you're going to see a lot of good campaigns and a lot of well- organized ones around good candidates.

WOODRUFF: And how are you feeling about the Tom Daschle reelection effort?

DASCHLE: Better every day.


WOODRUFF: OK. Did I not expect you to say anything different?


WOODRUFF: Senator Tom Daschle, very good to see you, the Senate minority leader.

DASCHLE: Thank you. My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Still ahead: Californians are venting their anger as the drive to recall Governor Gray Davis moves ahead. Our Bill Schneider has been out there listening to voters.


WOODRUFF: A look at what California voters are thinking.

Well, as the campaign to drive Gray Davis out of office picks up support, the question is, how do average Californians feel about their governor?

Our Bill Schneider is out there. He's been out there since yesterday. And he's been talking to some Californians.

Bill, what are you hearing? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm hearing they're angry on both sides of the recall issue. Californians who support the recall don't mince any words. They blame Governor Davis, not just because they think he has handled the situation badly, but because they think he kept the bad news from them until he got reelected last fall.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a disaster. He took a surplus and turned it into a phenomenal deficit. And that takes some skill. I voted for him. And I regret it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We elect them. I think we can kick them out if they don't do their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he knew that there was a $38 billion deficit before the election and basically kept it quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I support it as so much that it's part of our right as Americans and Californians. I think everything stinks right now.


SCHNEIDER: People who oppose the recall are just as vehement, not because they like Davis, but because they suspect something sinister may be going on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this whole thing just smacks of some sort of right-wing campaign to weaken Davis and perhaps weaken the Democratic stronghold in the state of California. I think it's awful. I think it's criminal. And I think it's ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I oppose it. And it's not because I think he's doing a spectacular job. But I think that the resources that will be spent on the recall would be better spent doing things that need to be done in the state. And I think that he inherited a mess and made it worse.


SCHNEIDER: Californians are bitter. They're partisan and divided. How divided? Well, this recent poll shows 51 percent of California voters favoring a recall and 43 percent opposed.

Now, only 21 percent of likely voters approve the job Davis is doing as governor. So, opposition to the recall is twice as high as support for Governor Davis. What does it mean? It means Davis' best chance to survive is by making the recall the issue. Who's behind this? What's their agenda? "This is not just about me," the governor will say -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And it sounds like they're passionate on both sides, folks you talked to.

SCHNEIDER: Certainly are.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill, we'll talk to you from out there tomorrow, I hope.


WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot.

Well, Bob Novak is here with some "Inside Buzz."

First of all, Bob, you are hearing about a grassroots revolt among conservatives on this whole Medicare prescription drug matter?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Judy. And it's spread to the conservatives in the House and Senate. This revote is in full swing as we speak right now.

There are not enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass the bill backed by the president. In fact, there's not enough votes in the House Rules Committee even to get it to the floor. They postponed the meeting of the House Rules Committee, which was supposed to be held this afternoon. The president had a very unhappy, unpleasant session with some House Republican members. The speaker of the House had a bad session with some conservatives. And 27 conservative Republican senators have written a letter of protest to the Senate majority leader.

WOODRUFF: So we -- a lot remains to be worked through on this one.

NOVAK: Now, it probably will. But there's very bitter feeling by the Republican base.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Billy Tauzin, we have been showing pictures in the program, Bob, of him singing, along with Congresswoman Mary Bono. We're going to tell people about that later.

But what are you hearing about him?

NOVAK: Well, contrary to public reports, he told me on the telephone that he is not going to -- he is going to serve out his term. He intends to run for another term, even though there's rumors that he is either going be the head of the recording industry or the motion picture industry in Washington.

But I can tell you this for a fact. There are elements in the motion picture industry who are considering a replacement for Mr. Valenti, who is the present leader and said -- has no intention of leaving. Among those they're considering are Tauzin, former Pentagon spokesman -- outgoing Pentagon spokesman Tori Clarke, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, former New York Congressman Bill Paxon. And this is the one that gets me; current sitting Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. Doesn't mean these people even want the job or have been talked to, but they're being talked about in Hollywood for the job of replacing Jack Valenti.

WOODRUFF: We're hearing it here first.

Last, but not least, big Republican fund-raiser in New York. And you heard they not only made a lot of money. It cost a lot of money to put it on.

NOVAK: The $4 million is a gross, not a net. The expenses are at least $800,000, according to Republican sources. And they complained that they -- sending up Air Force One, which is enormously expensive, to New York and back -- they have to reimburse the government for that -- with no other stops to apportion the cost, is just too expensive.

I said, how much does it cost? I've been trying to find out for two days from the Republicans how much it costs to send the president on Air Force One to New York. You know they can't find that number for me?

WOODRUFF: Would you please let us know if you can find it?

NOVAK: I'm going to try. I'm going to keep


WOODRUFF: Because it's a very difficult-to-find figure.

All right, Bob Novak, thanks very much.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: But I know you'll keep working on it.

NOVAK: I will.

WOODRUFF: Until you get an answer.

When we return: They may not be Snoop Dogg, but two members of Congress -- we just talked about one of them -- are taking their rap lyrics to the Hill.

Stay with us.


WOODRUFF: We don't often see rap music artists on Capitol Hill, but there are two House members who gave it their best shot.


REP. MARY BONO (R), CALIFORNIA: Oh, a very scary thought.

REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R), LOUISIANA: Pirates are bad. BONO: Pirates are bad. Pirates are bad. Pirates are bad. Pirates are bad.

TAUZIN: For a million a year, we'll tell them punks.

BONO: Steal our songs, you'll break rocks into chucks.

TAUZIN: I love music. How about Sonny and Cher?


WOODRUFF: What do they say about keeping your day job?

That is Republican Billy Tauzin and Mary Bono rapping against music piracy at an a going-away party for outgoing music industry executive Hilary Rosen. I'm sure she felt that was a meaningful experience.

And just a quick programming note: Tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, I'll be talking with Ed Gillespie, who will be taking over as chairman of the RNC next month.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. I'm Judy Woodruff.


Overcome Weekend Stumble?>

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