NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: He may have lost the debate, but is he also losing on the economy?
If you believe the polls, President Bush had a clear-cut lead on the economy heading into last week's debate. Now a new poll shows just the opposite, with Senator Kerry in the lead.
Is Bush administration concerned? Let us ask his commerce secretary, Don Evans.
Secretary, good to have you.
DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Thank you, Neil. Good to be with you.
CAVUTO: Now the data seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of your argument: things are picking up steam. But I'm worrying back, secretary, to the president's father running for re-election, when it was deemed too little, too late.
Are you worried this go-around?
EVANS: No. Look, I'm not, Neil. I continue to kind of look at the economic data and see the improvement, unemployment coming down, record homeownership across America, the GDP (search) growth at the highest it's been in almost 20 years. I'm not at all.
I mean, as I travel across America, I hear people telling me that they feel this growing and strengthening economy.
And listen, as you know, any time there's one person out of work that needs a job, we've still got work to do, which is why the president signed again — and this would be a fourth tax relief measure for the American people, continued to improve the economic conditions for more job growth.
CAVUTO: But let's talk about that job growth, Secretary.
CAVUTO: Of course, Friday, we're going to have the September employment data (search). Most are looking at something being weakened by all of these hurricanes, so it could be as weak as 120,000 jobs created.
If it is that or less, would you say the president's going to be in a heap of trouble in his debate that night?
EVANS: Neil, not at all. Listen, one of the things that we need to focus on is there are more Americans going to work today ever in the history of our country; 139,700,000 never before, according to the Household Survey (search), never had this many Americans going to work every day.
CAVUTO: But we also have a lot more Americans, right?
EVANS: Well, yes, but it shows, though, that we've gotten more working today than ever before.
And also, Neil, in the 1970's, unemployment was 6.2 percent. In the 1980's, it averaged 7.3 percent. And through the 1990's, it averaged 5.8 percent. So unemployment is not just below the averages of the past three decades, it's well below the averages of the past three decades.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, sir, a little bit about the tax cuts and the president's move to make it a fourth one today. There is an argument against the tax cuts, the deficit issue notwithstanding, that they're sort of like a Johnny one-shot note for the economy, that like a nicotine fix, they help you out in the beginning, but after that, they don't.
What do you say?
EVANS: Well, what I say is, Neil, we need to focus on growing this economy at its full potential. I mean, the tax cuts that the president signed into law today were part of the president's budget for the next five years.
The president has said we're going to cut the deficit in half in the next five years. We're well on our way to doing that.
You know, a lot of people get concerned about higher deficits and having an adverse impact on interest rates. We're certainly not seeing that in the futures market.
So Neil, I just say that, look, we need to continue to focus on economic policies, fiscal policies, to allow the economy to grow at its full potential, which means it continues create more jobs, higher paying jobs for the hard working people all across America.
CAVUTO: Secretary, let me ask you this, many of the president's deepest fans and supporters were worried about his performance in the debate last week and have urged him to take the battle to Kerry more directly on the economic issues. Will he?
EVANS: Well, listen, I mean, he's been taking the battle to the Kerry campaign and Senator Kerry on economic issues.
The president has a clear record of results. I mean, as he has said, and it is true, this is a very strong economy. It continues to get strong person can we do more? Of course we can. That's why he signed the tax bill today.
But he'll continue to point out the strong results of this economy, given the fact we were handed a Clinton recession, given the fact that we had 9/11. We dealt with corporate scandals, war in Afghanistan, liberation of Iraq, war against terrorism.
CAVUTO: All right.
EVANS: This is a very strong economy given all of those challenges that this country has faced
CAVUTO: Secretary Evans, thank you, sir. We appreciate it.
EVANS: Sure. Thank you, Neil.
CAVUTO: The commerce secretary of the United States, Don Evans, at the White House.
Now to the other side, Mickey Kantor, he too a commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and also a trade representative.
MICKEY KANTOR, FORMER COMMERCE SECRETARY: Neil, how are you?
CAVUTO: I don't know what to call you, I guess.
KANTOR: You can tall me anything that you wish. Now that the Dodgers are in the playoffs I don't care.
CAVUTO: You're happy. You're happy. Now, let me ask you this. The economy — you read the same numbers as I do.
CAVUTO: And you would have to kind of acknowledge it is picking up steam.
KANTOR: Only in certain aspects. I would agree, if you're an investor and if you're in a high-income class or professional, you're doing quite well.
But if you're middle class America, you're not. That's really the argument here, Neil.
CAVUTO: All right. But when your boss was running for re-election in 1996, ambassador, we had an unemployment rate that was actually higher. And we had job growth that was kind of like the job growth we're seeing now, and we had housing data that wasn't nearly as strong as what we're experiencing now.
Now back then, it was all hunky dory, but now it's not?
KANTOR: Well, let me just say that everything was growing then. In every year in the first four years of the Clinton administration we grew more jobs than the Bush administration has grown in the last year. That's No. 1.
And they were in industries that were growing with higher paying jobs than now when the industries are lower paying jobs and slower growth.
Merrill Lynch said 90 percent of the jobs created in the last 12 months, that's 1.4, 1.5 million jobs, have been in slow growth, lower paying industries paying on the average about $9,000 less than the jobs they replace. That's really the problem, Neil.
CAVUTO: But let's call a spade a spade here. The fact is 1.7 million jobs. I know I've heard from some of the Democratic camp that a lot of those are hamburger flippers. I don't know about that.
But the fact is 1.7 million jobs is still a lot of jobs, right?
KANTOR: Well, it's a lot of jobs. It depends what kind of jobs they are. Like I said, it's Merrill Lynch who said this. I didn't say this. Ninety percent of those jobs is slower growth, lower paying industries.
Twelve percent of the jobs were temporary, by the way, Neil.
And by the way, in the last three months, we've averaged 104,000 jobs per month. That's June, July and August. We need 150,000 jobs a month, as you know so well, just as replacement jobs.
And so we're not doing very well.
The middle class, by the way, has lost $1,535 in median income over the past three-and-a-half years. In the Clinton first four years, it grew by about $1,550.
CAVUTO: Mickey, you will acknowledge that there were a couple of issues that this president had to deal with in his first few years, like September 11, like the war on terror that kind of makes the comparison a little off, right?
KANTOR: Not really. September 11 did change our country. We need to be stronger. We need to create jobs. We don't need to get in a hole and keep digging.
These tax cuts only give help to those who don't need any help, and those that do need help get no help at all. In fact, they fall backwards.
We need a new program like John Kerry has suggested, where we give tax credit for college and tax credits, by the way, for child care and tax credits for health care and tax credits to businesses to create jobs. That would make a difference and make sense, frankly.
CAVUTO: Would you assume a role in a Kerry administration?
KANTOR: I'm not sure. I'm too old.
CAVUTO: You're not too old.
KANTOR: I'm happy to watch the Dodgers all week and, you know, go on with you once in a while when you'll talk to me.
CAVUTO: All right. Mickey Kantor, always a pleasure.
KANTOR: Thank you.
CAVUTO: Thank you sir, very much. Thanks. Former trade representative, former commerce secretary, Mickey Kantor.
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