This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, November 4, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.
TONY SNOW, HOST: How can we get the economy moving again? We'll ask Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux.
Also here, our Fox News panel: Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News Washington; and from National Public Radio, Mara Liasson and Juan Williams.
Senator Breaux, the president wants tax cuts. Some of your Democratic colleagues want more spending. You're the guy in the middle. What's it going to be?
SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: Oh, I think it's obvious that we have to have a compromise. Neither party can pass our own bills by themselves. Republicans cannot pass the Grassley bill, or we cannot pass the Baucus bill, but we can pass a combination that takes the best features of both bills. And we ought to be talking about stimulating the economy and not stimulating the political parties by political rhetoric.
SNOW: I'm curious about something you and others have said, which is that a stimulus should be short-term. Why is that? Don't people make investment decisions based on long-term considerations rather than short-term cash pops?
BREAUX: I think what we're talking about is trying to do something as fast as we possibly can. If people know that you're going to have some extra breaks or extra incentives that only last for a certain period of time, they're likely to move quickly to take advantage of them.
But if you know that it's going to be there for the next three, four, five years, they may delay it until the fifth year to take any action. We want to get them to move as quickly and as fast as you possibly can.
SNOW: But at the end of that period, if people can't advantage of it any more, then you're back having a slump, aren't you?
BREAUX: Well, I mean, obviously Congress can always come back at that time and address it. But I think it's very important to say, all right, we're going to have these incentives right now, short-term, one year, and hope that people react to them in a very positive manner.
LIASSON: Senator Breaux, the Democrats are pretty adamant on the Senate side that unemployment benefits and health benefits are included in the final bill. Do you think that's non-negotiable?
BREAUX: Well, I think that both sides have said -- look, the Republicans do not want to do anything to establish a federal program to guarantee health benefits for unemployed. Democrats have said, look, we have to concentrate on individuals.
I mean, we can do everything in the world for companies, but if we don't do something on the demand side, they're not going to be making a lot more products if there's no one there to buy them.
We have to address the unemployment. And both sides say, look, 13 more weeks of unemployment insurance is about right. We have suggested that there ought to be a way to handle health insurance for unemployed people. You have to give people enough financial wherewithal to buy the products.
But you also have to do something on the tax cut side, and accelerated depreciation is an example to help encourage businesses as well.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: How does health insurance for the unemployed stimulate the economy?
BREAUX: It's a matter of equity, Brit. I think that you can't say that, look, we as a nation are only going to help businesses or have tax cuts when you have several hundred thousand more unemployed people last week who may not have health insurance.
It's a matter of equity, of proper balance, of doing something on the stimulus side, and also of doing something for people who are out of work and who desperately need health insurance.
HUME: Yes, but shouldn't that belong in a separate bill, rather than one that's...
BREAUX: You could argue about where it should be. I don't disagree with that. I don't know if it has a stimulus effect, but it certainly has an equity effect.
HUME: Well, obviously it does. But there are many other things that -- I mean, social equity is something we strive for as a nation in every year, not just in time of war. I just wonder whether you feel that's a negotiable measure that could come out of the bill to save money, if it...
BREAUX: I think it's going to be part of the package. I mean, I think that, obviously, I mean, if Republicans perhaps could write their bill just like they wanted, that would not be in there. But they can't. And therefore, I think, from a perspective that many Democrats have and that I share, you're going to have to do something for unemployment.
And look, the president has already proposed what I suggested and a group of senators have, is that we have a tax credit for people to be able to buy health insurance. It has the same effect. It doesn't create a new federal entitlement program. And I think that should be more acceptable to the White House.
JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Now, Senator, one of the arguments coming from the White House is that, clearly, if you have tax cuts, that will stimulate the economy, as opposed to spending.
But the question then becomes, is it unfair in terms of the amount and size of those tax cuts that go to the richest Americans, to the biggest companies, to the IBMs, to the oil companies?
How do you discuss this with the White House in some way so as to say the stimulus is not going to come in time to have some immediate impact, especially with Christmas approaching?
BREAUX: Well, you want to obviously do it as fast as you possibly can.
I think some tax cuts can do that, accelerated depreciation can help businesses buy things that they might not otherwise buy.
But you also have to do something to put the money in hands of people. The president and the Congress have both agreed that a rebate check to those who did not benefit from the last tax bill is a good idea, puts dollars in their hands which hopefully they will spend.
And I think that you could also look at some of the rates. I think that our centrist group, for instance, is looking at the idea of expanding fast forward the 10-percent category to include people making a little bit more income, would pay only 10 percent on the first $14,000 for a couple.
WILLIAMS: But the Democratic Party is in a trap here. The Democratic Party obviously wants to have some kind of deal with the White House. At the same time, the Democratic Party, in terms of its constituents, those who were talking about equity a moment ago with Brit Hume.
If it's going to be an equity issue, the Democratic Party is going to be caught out, because either they're with the White House and get a bill, or they don't get a bill and people say, you're to blame for not stimulating this economy.
BREAUX: Juan, the truth is that both parties are in a political box. If both parties just play to our base, nothing will happen. And most people in the country have already counted on us getting a stimulus package.
If we only do our base, we're not going to get a stimulus package. And I think that would be tragic.
We have to look at it and try to take the best features of both bills and combine them. That can be done. This is not an impossible task.
SNOW: Senator, the president wants a bill by the end of the month. Is he going to get it?
BREAUX: I think the answer is yes. I think that we're scheduled to mark up in the Finance Committee, I think, on Wednesday.
If we don't have the votes in the Finance Committee, Tom Daschle has the ability to take the bill right to the floor, which I would recommend, because that's where I think the compromise will actually occur.
SNOW: Senator Daschle reportedly told the president that the president needs this bill more than the Senate does. You got the president over a barrel and is that the way to negotiate in a time of war?
BREAUX: The country needs this bill. I mean, we shouldn't look at it as to which party needs the bill the most, we should look at it as the fact that the United States of America is in a recession. We have the highest unemployment now in, I think, the last five years. This country needs the bill. We got to get away from figuring out which party needs it and just get it done.
HUME: Senator, what's the centrist position on this issue of federalizing or not federalizing airport security personnel?
BREAUX: You know, Brit, I mean, the people that protect us, the policemen, the firemen, the bodyguards, are all federal employees. Do you have to have them in all of the airports? The answer, I think, is not for every airport but certainly for some.
In the past, we've tried to do it as "who can do it the cheapest" and not "who can do it the best." I mean, obviously, the goal now should be "who can do the best job," and it may have a strong federal involvement, and I think that will be the ultimate compromise.
HUME: Are you concerned at all with the experience that other countries have had when they tried to have it be all government personnel and they ended up having to move away from that? Does that teach you anything?
BREAUX: Yes, I think we can learn. I mean, we can look at other countries who have hired out the right people to do the job. But they haven't been based on who can do it the cheapest. I mean, we let the airlines do it. They wanted to do it as cheap as they possibly could, and we see the results. That cannot continue.
HUME: Well, yes, but are you saying -- are you suggesting then that if the standards were high enough and costs were not the issue, that you wouldn't necessarily require that they be made federal personnel?
BREAUX: I think that, obviously, we're going to have to reach some kind of a conclusion because the House and the Senate are absolutely opposite in this. And I think some kind of a combination of federal involvement in supervision and setting the standards and the ability to fire people who don't get the job done is absolutely critical in any compromise.
LIASSON: Senator McCain said earlier he considers the screening of baggage a law-enforcement function, and certainly he said that we wouldn't contract out law enforcement to private companies. Is that how you see it?
BREAUX: That's how the Senate in a 100-0 vote saw it, and I thought that was the right approach. But if we're going to get anything done, there's going to have to be some maneuvering room there, and I think that that's going to be possible.
WILLIAMS: Senator, very quickly, what about the anthrax alerts and the way that Tom Ridge and Tommy Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services, have handled these issues?
I've heard questions here in Washington this week about whether or not the administration has been sending a confident and consistent message. Is that a concern of yours?
BREAUX: Well, it's been a mixed message. I mean, I think everybody recognizes that. I mean, they're telling us to be on highest possible alert but also go about your daily lives. And you don't go about your daily lives being on highest possible alert.
SNOW: Final question.
HUME: Do you think those alerts then should not have been issued?
BREAUX: No, I think they should have been, but, I mean, it's a time when you're not going to have everything perfect. We should know about them, but you're not going to be able to go about your normal life if you're on highest alert at the same time.
SNOW: Oregon National Wildlife Reserve, is that going to be opened up for exploration?
BREAUX: I would like it to be, and I think the possibility is probably greater rather than less that it would be. I think that a carefully crafted ANWR exploration program can be adopted in this Congress.
SNOW: And it can be filibuster proof?
BREAUX: It's going to be very close, but it's possible. I mean, we're going to have to have 60 votes in the Senate, but I think it's very, very close.
HUME: Has the filibuster math changed since the war? Does anyone want to be filibustering something that is -- that says increase energy supplies?
BREAUX: I would not want to be in that position. I think it would be an untenable position because we can do it safely in a measured and a balanced fashion.
SNOW: All right. Senator John Breaux, thanks for joining us.
BREAUX: Thank you.
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